Air Charter Best Practices
Air transportation is a critical aspect of any travel program.
The logistics of transporting people, baggage, and equipment from one location to another can be very complex.
Air charter is often the preferred method due to its flexibility and reliability, especially with tight schedules, multiple legs, and/or international locales.
This presentation provides guidance on air charter procurement best practices.
The Commercial Service Cost Savings Trap
Time is money. Commercial flights can be unreliable and severely limit the flexibility of schedules. While commercial service is often less expensive, it exponentially increases the risk of schedule disruptions.
Juggling multiple flights for passengers and equipment increases complexity, as well as the risk that someone or something will not arrive where and when you need it.
Air Charter lets you control the schedule and ensure that passengers arrive onsite and on time. But there are important procurement considerations.
Air Carrier Selection
Not all airlines are equal. Your air charter broker should have extensive information relative to any air carrier offered, including:
Operational history (reliability).
Experience with your travel profile, passenger needs, and required amenities.
Experience with the operations at each airport (customs, permits, landing rights, slot approvals, available services) as well as global flight operations experience.
Aircraft vary between operators even if they are the same model.
ETOPS (Extended Range Twin Operations) certified aircraft can fly more than 60 minutes from a suitable airport over water, enabling much more efficient and faster routing.
Non-ETOPS certified aircraft can have significantly less utility and cannot operate to some locations, such as Hawaii from the continental U.S. This is regardless of an aircraft’s range capability.
Engine type can affect range, ability to take off and land at certain airports, payload, and fuel consumption.
Understand the differences between the aircraft being offered and their suitability, even if aircraft type is identical to other offerings.
Newer aircraft provide better fuel economy, advanced avionics, and modern passenger amenities such as seat power and Wi-Fi.
Understand the aircraft options being offered, including the aircraft configuration.
Seat map identifying seating configuration (first, business, premium, coach).
Seat pitch (distance in inches from the back of one seat to the back of the seat in front of it).
Cabin layout: Locations of different seating configurations, in-flight service areas, bulkheads,
passenger power sources, and entertainment systems.
Cubic volume of above and below wing cargo and baggage storage.
Maximum standard payload in pounds and cubic feet.
Match passenger expectations with the aircraft (and crew) capabilities.
Does the aircraft have ovens and adequate galley space? If so, are they adequate to service the entire aircraft, or just the first-class section?
Does the aircraft have appropriate storage for the meal service? Has the in-flight department signed off on the proposed service?
Most cabin crews (except VIP) are not trained to manage complex meal services, especially for an entire aircraft. Discuss this with your provider to ensure that the passenger expectations match air carrier capabilities.
What beverages and food (if any) are included in your contract? What does “standard” meal or beverage service mean? Don’t make assumptions regarding beverage and meal services. Ask questions and discuss details.
Prior to signing a contract, discuss the ability to make schedule changes, add additional catering or
bar service, or other adjustments.
Avoid the busy terminal environment and enable direct enplanement and deplanement from motor coaches via ramp operations.
Ramp operations are usually restricted to domestic operations as well as other location specific restrictions, including motor coach transport only.
Determine in advance if the operation will be via ramp operations or terminal. Ramp operations are.
always subject to availability and approvals and are usually not available for international flights.
While unique VIP aircraft configurations provide an exceptional experience, caution is required when booking.
In the event the aircraft needs to be replaced due to a mechanical or other unforeseen event, the configuration of the replacement aircraft may have little or no resemblance to the contracted aircraft.
Many operators have aircraft of the same type but with varying seating configurations. Understand what these other configurations are in advance should a substitution be required.
Have a contingency plan and make stakeholders aware of unique configuration challenges.
Fleet depth comprises the number of aircraft in a carrier’s fleet as well as that air carrier’s policy on maintaining fleet spares to minimize delay disruptions.
While smaller fleets can offer better pricing and sometimes superior passenger experience, larger airlines with more aircraft typically can recover from a mechanical problem more quickly.
Larger airlines with more aircraft aren’t necessarily always more efficient at recovering from a delay if their policy is to protect commercial service flights before charter flights.
Have a conversation with your air charter broker about the aircraft operators being offered.
All air carriers have delays. Discuss contingency plans and how you will adjust your schedule should a delay occur.
For mission critical schedules, a second aircraft “hot standby” can be contracted as a back-up aircraft at an additional cost.
An aircraft’s payload can be affected by altitude, temperature, weather enroute, runway length, and runway conditions. Discuss payload with your charter provider.
Make sure that under normal operating conditions your selected aircraft can operate nonstop with the planned payload.
Pay close attention to payload weight and volume. An aircraft can “bulk out” before it exceeds the payload weight limit. Payload comprises passenger weights, carry-on, and all checked baggage and other cargo.
If the route is close to the maximum range of the aircraft, an unplanned fuel stops and/or reduction in payload may be required. Discuss contingency planning with your air charter company.
3Hs –High, Hot, Heavy. Airports at high altitudes, hot weather, and heavy payloads can dramatically affect aircraft performance.
Operational History Get Beyond the Marketing
Past performance is a great indicator of capabilities.
While websites are informative, they are not objective.
Ask for references.
Inquire about on-time reliability.
Benchmarking –air charter brokers can compare a carrier’s performance against the rest of the marketplace, providing insight into their reliability and customer service.
The fuel base of a contract is the amount that a carrier is willing to pay “up to” for fuel per gallon.
A fuel base should be “into-plane” which means it includes all charges and fees including fueling costs.
Understand how a fuel surcharge will be calculated.
Ask for a fuel cost update beginning a few weeks from your departure so you can prepare for any fuel surcharges.
Terminal fuel is usually less expensive than fuel associated with ramp operations.
Ask how a fuel surcharge will be calculated. Often, your provider can also give you some indication of how much a fuel surcharge is.
The “D” Word
Aircraft delays happen to all airlines. Safety is always prioritized over schedule. Consider travel insurance.
Airlines that have a history of overscheduling and unreliability should be avoided.
The odds of a delay can be minimized via careful procurement, but never eliminated.
Have a contingency plan. Discuss the plan with stakeholders and be ready to put the plan into action in the event of an extended delay.
Understand which types of delays are the responsibility of the air carrier, and what the air carrier’s and your obligations are.
Weather delays are a Force Majeure event and are not the responsibility of the air carrier. Discuss weather delay recovery with your air charter company.
If possible, avoid scheduling critical events immediately.