Illegal air charter operations pose a serious safety hazard to the traveling public. The FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators and to help passengers ensure the company they hire is legitimate.
Air charter operations — also known as commuter and on demand operations — require a higher level of FAA pilot training and certification, aircraft maintenance procedures, and operational safety rules, than pilots who may take family or friends for an airplane ride. FAA inspectors perform more frequent periodic checks on air charter companies’ pilots, crewmembers and aircraft than they do on private pilot operations. And charter companies’ crewmembers must undergo regular proficiency checks to maintain their FAA certifications.
The FAA has taken a number of actions to ensure FAA aviation inspectors are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to investigate illegal charter operations. The agency formed a Special Emphasis Investigations Team to investigate complex cases; partners with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA)'s Air Charter Safety Foundation to help identify possible illegal operations; and continues to collaborate with industry trade associations to educate pilots and operators to ensure they understand all of the rules that apply to charter operations.
The Following are Red Flags that Indicate a Company May Not Be a Legitimate Operator:
- If the company provides the aircraft and at least one crewmember, yet attempts to transfer operational control to a consumer via any document.
- A lack of Federal Excise Tax charged to the consumer. Legitimate operators have to charge this. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
- A lack of a safety briefing or passenger briefing cards.
- Any evasiveness to questions or concerns. Legitimate operators should be transparent and helpful.
- If the pilot or someone associated with the company coaches passengers on what to say or do if an FAA aviation inspector meets the aircraft at its destination.
If You Suspect Illegal Air Charter Operations, Report It:
- Flight Standards District Offices
- National Air Transportation Association – Fly Smarter: Avoid Illegal Charter
- Illegal Charter Hotline
- FAA Hotline
- 1-888-SKY-FLT1 or 1-888-750-3581
All reports are forwarded to and reviewed by the FAA.
If you decide that chartering an aircraft is right for you, do your research. Illegal air charter operations pose serious safety hazards, and the FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators. Legal/licensed air charter operators (MS Excel) incur relatively high overhead costs to maintain the aircraft, train and test crew members, and stay compliant with FAA and TSA regulations. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It's important to verify the legitimacy of the charter operator before you before you book your flight. When paying for an Air Charter, ask to see the Operator's Air Carrier or Operating Certificate to validate that the aircraft has authorization for charter use. If the operator refuses to allow you to see the required authorization, look for a charter operator willing to provide you with that information. Before entering into an aircraft lease, ensure you understand and are willing to accept your responsibilities for compliance with air safety regulations.
Learn more about Chartering an Aircraft, A Consumer Guide to Help You Fly Smarter (PDF).
Aircraft Owners and Operators
Ensure you fully understand the requirements for legitimate leases as explained in the following FAA Advisory Circulars:
- AC 91-37B – Defines "Truth in Leasing" which defines operational control
- AC 120-12A – Defines Common v. Private Carriage and the four pillars of common carriage
- AC 61-142 – Provides guidance on how a pilot may share flight expenses with passengers