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Air Charter - How to Purchase on Value and Save on Headaches

Updated: May 8, 2020

Finding an Aircraft is the Easy Part

Choices, choices, choices. We live in an age where with just a few clicks, you can find dozens of options for whatever it is you are looking for. This includes private aviation. There are more options for private jet air transportation than ever; on-demand air charter, fractional ownership, outright ownership, card programs and yes, the occasional Ponzi scheme promising travel like a rock star for the cost of a cab ride. The real challenge is no longer finding suppliers, it is making sense of all of the information and noise, and then making the best value decision.

It's All About Best Value

Private air charter is not a commodity, although it is often presented to the consumer as such. Before the internet (yes, there was a time when we did not have access to cat videos),  a big part of an air charter broker’s job was literally just finding aircraft. This involved building a network of operators all over the world. Air charter consumers relied on air charter brokers to sleuth out aircraft operators that chartered their aircraft. Post-internet, the air charter broker’s role shifted from finding aircraft (anyone can find aircraft now) to making sense of what can be an overwhelming number of options while providing support every step of the way.

Get Out of the Commodity Mindset

Often consumers, as well as many brokers, make the assumption that the lowest-priced option is always the best option. This is a commodity mindset; all offerings are essentially identical, and the lowest price is the best choice. This works fine for buying wheat, barley, and oranges –  not so much for private aviation.

You would not select an attorney or a plastic surgeon just because they were cheap. Your freedom or your beautiful new nose is more important than short-term savings. You would make your selection based on the competency of the individual and the firm that they worked for, their reputation, and their experience. This same careful purchase approach should apply to air charter. Your safety, as well as your charter experience, depend on it.

Private Air Charter is Complex - Ask Questions

Private aviation is complicated. For example, a large corporate group of 150 guests looking into air charter will require the determination of the best aircraft choice based on a number of criteria. This includes but is not limited to aircraft size, range, seating configuration, certifications and payload capacity (all that luggage is heavy!). If nonstop travel is required, what aircraft have the requisite range to do this? If the client is bringing a significant amount of luggage such as golf clubs, relief supplies, or production gear, not all of it may fit on every aircraft. Runway length, even how much weight the runway can sustain are important considerations.

If a business jet is your thing, then making sense of the many aircraft types, sizes and capabilities can be daunting to the uninitiated. What is the difference between a light and mid-sized jet? A super-mid? Are there contract risks to “empty legs”? Did you know that some aircraft don't have lavatories?! Wait, a turboprop is a jet engine with propellers?  How do I obtain the operator’s safety record? How many hours do the pilots have, and how do those hours compare to the rest of the industry? What on earth is ETOPS?

A good broker is your agent, your educator and your advocate that can answer your questions, leading you to the best purchase decision. Ask a lot of questions and expect your broker to have the expertise to make recommendations not just on your budget but most importantly on your needs.

Why Price Shouldn't be Queen

You have seen the options, looked at the pricing and are ready to make a selection. We get it, of course price matters. But what else should be considered when making that final choice? Often a new market entrant will price well below the market initially. This creates bargain pricing, but also the risk of the operator learning as they go – learning on your trip. Sometimes a good price is just that and should be taken advantage of. Many times, there is more to the story. Look at the whole picture.

Don't eliminate an airline or business jet operator that has priced higher than other air charter options. Why purchase at a higher price point? One reason might be a larger fleet size. When aircraft malfunction, we want them to stay on the ground. This basic principle is why the aviation industry is so safe. Safety always trumps schedule. That said, we appreciate how important it is to maintain a client’s schedule. In the event of a malfunction necessitating a replacement aircraft, larger fleets are typically able to recover the fastest, getting you where you need to go with minimal delay. Another reason to avoid lowest price is aircraft age. While age is not by itself an indicator of an aircraft's safety, newer aircraft, like a new car, are less prone to mechanical malfunctions, while also having the latest designs in passenger comfort.

Air Charter Experience Matters

Other reasons for not choosing solely on lowest price might include an operator’s past performance with other clients. Get references and ask questions. Working with a quality broker gives you the benefit of their having a lot of history with the charter airlines that they are recommending.  Brokers also have knowledge, buying power, vendor influence, and experience that a retail client chartering as few as one time just will not have.

I've Made my Choice. Now What?

After making the selection of both operator and aircraft, are you done? Not yet – not until the last passenger is home. This is where that best value purchase mindset will pay off and invariably where the lowest bid option will often fall apart, because lowest price is most often a trade-off. It is important to know what you are trading away. Low-cost operators often struggle with getting information to clients in a timely manner. There are usually fewer experienced staff and less infrastructure to handle operations and logistics. A solid broker can often work with airport operations directly to bypass a weak link, but ideally the aircraft operator has the bandwidth to manage their trips properly.

It's Showtime!

Come departure day, we recommend that your broker has staff at the airport as well as a 24 hour Duty Officer to help you manage day-of (and night before) logistics. It is important to monitor aircraft movement, weather, airport operations and even your passengers' ground transportation. In the event of a delay (yes, delays are part of aviation and a reason the industry is so safe) your broker will help you make sense of the options and choices available, representing your interests to arrive at the best possible solution. Older aircraft and smaller fleets typically will increase both the number as well as the duration of delays over time. This is another trade-off between price and value.

Some brokerages are “set it and forget it” – they find operators, but don’t help you with the process from start to finish. Be sure to ask about contingency planning and support services. A quality broker is the most valuable when things don’t go according to plan, due to weather or some other unforeseen event. Trying to reach a budget broker in the middle of the night when you need them is frustrating. Always ask if the brokerage provides 24/7/365 flight support.

Bringing it all Home

Can you save money by just going with the lowest price? Yes. That said, there are complexities inherent to the air charter industry that make a real case for making a best value selection. More often than not, the best value was the combination of price, aircraft type, operator history and air charter broker capabilities.

Over time, focusing on these criteria has resulted in much better purchase decisions and better charter experiences for air charter clients. Aircraft operating costs are largely the same across operators. In other words, if there are savings, it has to come from somewhere, such as older and smaller fleets, a less experienced staff, or a lower level of service. When you are in the market for private aviation charter, we encourage you to adopt a best value mindset. You'll be glad you did.


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