When to Use Charter and Jet Cards

How do you know whether business aircraft charter is the right option for you? David Wyndham explores, highlighting some key components to consider and the questions to ask a charter provider…

David Wyndham  |  19th March 2018
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    David Wyndham
    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and...

    Private Jet Charter Passengers Disembark from the Aircraft

    How do you know whether business aircraft charter is the right option for you? David Wyndham explores, highlighting some key questions to ask…

    For the infrequent or occasional Business Aviation user, it makes little sense to invest in a whole aircraft. A good option is to charter aircraft for your private travel needs on an ad-hoc basis.

    An advantage of chartering is the availability of many different types and capabilities of aircraft that are available to you, thus you are not restricted to one type of jet or turboprop as would be the case for other ownership scenarios.

    For those who are new to Business Aviation I often recommend trying out various aircraft and not making any long-term commitments. If this is you, charter can be an excellent option.

    On-demand charter can be booked by contacting the provider directly or via a charter broker (who acts much like a travel agent).

    According to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) there are over 2,100 FAA licensed aircraft charter operators in the US. These range from small single-engine piston aircraft operators to large turbine fleet operators. Legally, these operators must be licensed by the FAA to provide air charter services. 

    You can find a handbook and online listing of licensed air charter operators worldwide at the Air Charter Guide. There are multiple other online sites catering to private air travel trips, too. 

    Tips for Using a Charter Broker

    Given the many different options available, a charter broker may be a good option. At present, charter brokers are not formally certified, thus experience and skills can vary from broker to broker. You should ask about their experience in organizing the type of trip you require.

    You should also get references, and seek recommendations about a broker you are considering.

    A good broker familiar with the type of travel that you need will help you navigate and select the best options available, while also representing you and your trip needs to the charter operators.

    As a matter of interest, ARG/US (www.argus.aero) offers a charter broker certification program with broker ratings.


    Understanding Your Charter Booking

    Usually, Business Aviation charter is booked for the entire time the aircraft is in use. Let’s imagine a company books a charter flight requiring an aircraft to depart St. Louis to collect its executives in Springfield, Missouri. From there the executives are transported to Knoxville, Tennessee, and back to Springfield.

    Having returned the executives, the aircraft returns to its base in St. Louis. Often a charter user would have paid for the entirety of the journey, whether the aircraft is occupied or not.

    Some brokers and websites specialize in one-way (or empty-leg) trips, however, for which a user can take advantage of an aircraft returning from a specific place to a specific location empty. These flights can be booked for specific dates and times. 

    When do Jet Cards and Memberships Work Best?

    If your travel needs are typically between 50-150 hours annually, jet cards and membership programs are a style of block charter that could be useful to you. You pre-purchase a block of hours at a guaranteed price. Most programs start at 25-hour cards. 

    There are as many differences as there are programs: Some offer newer aircraft and one-way billing. Membership programs offer specific aircraft types and customization for individuals or businesses.

    Doug Goleman, a Forbes magazine contributor who specializes in goods and services catering to ultra-high-net-worth individuals, provides a comparison of jet card and membership programs covering all major, and many of the minor programs (https://privatejetcardcomparisons.com).

    Those considering jet cards and membership programs should understand the restrictions. Following are some useful questions to answer:

    • Are the aircraft types or ages guaranteed?
    • What about minimum leg lengths?
    • How does the program bill for international travel, fuel cost surcharges and other fees look?
    • How long are the prices guaranteed for?
    • Are unused funds refundable?
    • Does the provider offer one-way pricing?
    • What is important to you? 

    Safety for Charter, Cards and Memberships

    While safety is paramount in regard to charter, jet cards and membership programs, not all safety 'ratings' are equal. The top standard of safety involves passing, at the highest level, a third-party safety audit. That audit also verifies that a formal 'Safety Management System' is in place.

    There are several entities that are involved in performing these audits. Given the number of charter certificate holders and card/membership programs, paying a third-party audit ought to be a required minimum for those who are truly interested in safety. You’ll find some useful links and resources for aviation safety below. 

    In Summary

    Charter, jet cards and membership programs are gaining in popularity as younger buyers look for the service, not the ownership. For those seeking charter solutions to meet their travel needs, the above should help provoke some important questions to ask the broker, provider and oneself.

    For heavier users of air travel, there are other more suitable ownerships options that we will cover next month. 

    Further Resources:

    Following are some resources for aviation safety applicable to business aircraft charter:

    • Air Charter Safety Foundation: Organization setting safety standards and has an audit process (www.acsf.aero).
    • ARGUS: Performs independent safety audits of charter operators (argus.aero/product/charter-operator-ratings).
    • Wyvern: Performs independent safety audits of charter operators (www.wyvernltd.com/wingman-standard).

    Additional standards and information on best practices for business aircraft and audit-based certifications can also be found at:

    • International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), IS-BAO Safety Certification (www.ibac.org/is_bao).



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    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham

    Editor, Ownership & Operating Costs

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and budget analysis and finance fundamentals. With several decades supporting aircraft owners and operators in making fully-informed decisions about their aircraft needs, his expertise spans from the flight department to the executive boardroom.

    David is the founder of David Wyndham + Associates, and previously he was a Co-owner and President of Conklin & de Decker where he consulted with large corporations, individuals, and government agencies on their aircraft needs.



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