Illegal Flights: Federal Aviation Regulations for Private Jet Charter

by Hangar 7 Aviation

COVID-19 has many travelers concerned about flying. 

Private jet operators are seeking to minimize your anxiety and reduce your exposure to crowds to ensure a safer flying experience. Commercial flights are unable to do this and have also stopped servicing popular destinations. Flights are often being cancelled causing stress and aggravation.   

Flying private has many more options to get you where you are going and aircraft flight departments are wanting to meet the demand. However, this has put the industry in a bit of a predicament with federal aviation regulations. As the NBAA observes, Part 91 operators might be faced with “situations in which they accept payment or reimbursement for flying a passenger—and unwittingly put themselves and passengers at risk by operating an illegal charter flight.”

What Would Make a Private Jet Charter Illegal?

Illegal charter operations come in many forms. Many of the more formal illegal operations will involve so-called “flight department” companies that may use illegal dry leases or timeshare agreements that often greatly exceed the FAA’s rules.

In our prior example, the issue would be that Part 91 operators are not—except under rare circumstances—permitted to carry passengers for compensation. There are important regulatory requirements and security considerations in place to protect passenger safety, and when they are ignored, everyone is put at risk.

The recent $3.3 million penalty proposed by the FAA against The Hinman Co. (and subsidiary Hincojet LLC) shows how seriously the government takes federal aviation regulations. The FAA alleges that Hincojet LLC “failed to hold the required operator certificate for the flights being performed,” specifically that they were “charging more than the expenses allowed under Part 91” and should have operated under Part 135. 

Anyone unsure about the regulations should seek expert advice before booking a flight.

How Will I Know If I’m at Risk?

The FAA provides a great list of red flags to watch out for. Any of these could be a sign that the company isn’t a legitimate operator.

  • A document that transfers “operational control” to you or another consumer, even though the company provided the aircraft and at least one crew member.
  • Charges that don’t include a Federal Excise Tax. Legal private jet charters must charge this, and the astounding low prices from skipping it are a sure sign the price is too good to be true. 
    • Note: Federal Excise Tax has been waived until December 31, 2020 as part of the CARES act.
  • A pilot or company official coaching you on what to say or do if an FAA aviation inspector meets your flight at its destination.
  • No safety cards or passenger briefing cards.
  • General evasiveness or lack of transparency around your questions or concerns.

Legitimate operators will be helpful, answer your questions, and have all their paperwork and taxes in order without any concerns over who has operational control or what you’ll say to inspectors.

I May Have Discovered an Illegal Air Charter. What Can I Do About It?

As a trusted passenger, you’re in the perfect position to protect yourself and others by helping the FAA enforce federal aviation regulations. There are many places you can report a suspected illegal operation, including:

NATA provides the following hotline number as well as an online reporting form on their website. They also maintain avoidillegalcharter.com to make this information even easier to find.

HOTLINE: (888) 759-3581

Federal aviation regulations aim to prevent serious safety hazards and shut down rogue private jet charter operations. Legal air charter operators (as listed here in an MS Excel file from the FAA) require higher overhead costs than illegal charters because they properly “maintain aircraft, train and test crew members, and stay compliant with FAA and TSA regulations.”

Exercise proper caution and avoid getting caught on an illegal flight—it isn’t worth the risk.

Take to the Sky Your Way