What you need to know about air charter operators.
The rules regulating air charter operators are almost identical to scheduled air carriers. The main difference between air charter and scheduled airline service is the size of the aircraft. Otherwise, pilot qualifications and training, as well as aircraft maintenance are the same.
AIR CHARTER CERTIFICATES: Obtaining a license to fly air charter can be a daunting task. It takes several months to a year or two to meet the FAA standards. Personnel must have a minimum of three years of prior air charter experience before they can qualify to own an air charter company. Every part and component on the aircraft must be documented to show they are within the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) time limits before they can be certified for air charter.
Once an air charter certificate is obtained, it is equally difficult to maintain it. There is a comprehensive recordkeeping requirement to insure the air charter operator is meeting all FAA regulations. In addition, the FAA can make unannounced visits and inspect their operation. If any element of it does not meet FAA standards, the government can, and usually does, shut the company down.
This also applies to the individual pilot and the aircraft, both of which are susceptible to FAA “ramp checks”. These are surprise inspections at airports where an FAA inspector can walk up to an air charter pilot, and demand that he or she prove they and their airplane are legal for the flight.
Private jet flight departments and fractional companies may say they maintain the same standards as charter operators and the airlines, but they are typically not exposed to the same FAA scrutiny of their operations. Often the rules for these companies call for replacing something when it breaks and not before.
ARGUS and YVERN approved operators: These are terms developed by air charter brokers to help market their services. In essence, the air charter operator who is already certified by the FAA, pays the air charter broker to come to their facility and inspect their operation. The ARGUS or YVERN approval is only a snap shot of how the operator is doing at the time of review. The bronze, silver, gold or platinum certificates awarded are generally based on how much the Air Charter Operator is willing to pay the broker for their inspections. As recently as twenty years ago, there were a number of marginal air charter operators. However, today the FAA is doing a much better job of monitoring the industry. So, even if an air charter operator has not paid for an ARGUS or YVERN certificate, you will still receive safe and reliable service from them.
CHARTER PILOTS: The Federal Aviation Agency, FAA, requires a pilot to have a minimum of 1,200 hours as pilot-in-command before they can fly a twin engine aircraft for hire. However, insurance companies actually dictate how many hours are needed and they typically require a minimum of 2,500 hours of pilot-in-command time for light twin engine aircraft. As the aircraft becomes larger and more complex, the minimum hours required by the insurance companies increase substantially.
PILOT TRAINING: Pilots receive a minimum of 5 to 10 hours of specialized in-flight training utilizing the specific aircraft make and model they will be flying, during which time they cover every possible emergency that can happen in an aircraft. After the training, they need to take an oral and written examination, as well as a flight check ride. Here they demonstrate their ability to an FAA examiner or an FAA designated check airman. These flight checks are very demanding and it is a process which is repeated every six months for as long as the pilot continues to fly for hire.
AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE: Every part and component on an aircraft is given a time life by the FAA. First the FAA determines how long a part or component will last and, for commercial operators, these times are usually cut in half. When the FAA’s time limits are reached, the part or component must be replaced, even though they still have half of their service life left. There are no exceptions!
Time limits are in both actual hours of usage and calendar life. As an example, most propellers have a five year calendar life as well as an hourly limit. If a charter operator has a brand new aircraft which is not flown, the propeller still must be overhauled at the five year limit, even if it was never used. By contrast, a private jet aircraft, not in commercial service, needs to only have a part or component replaced when they fail.