Borrow an Aircraft or Book a Business Jet for Your Air Charter?
Insanely packed talent and staff schedules can make getting there on-time and getting whatever "it" is done very difficult. Enter the go-to travel tool of private jet travel. The privacy, flexibility, and convenience of flying private can be a critical advantage in the competitive world of professional sports. The question is, why not borrow a jet for a nice low price instead of utilizing a professionally operated aircraft?
Players, agents, and ownership are plugged into a lot of private jet product from ownership, friends or business associates willing to part with their bird, especially for someone high-profile, often for free or at very little cost. How is that not a great deal? While a donated privately operated aircraft (known as Part 91 certification) can result in significant savings versus utilizing a commercially certified air charter operator (known as Part 135 certification), there are some very important differences between the two types of certification that you should be aware of.
Part 91 - Privately Owned Jet Aircraft
Part 91 of the FAA regulations sets the rules and operating requirements for the private use of civil aircraft, mandating the safety and operating standards for small, non-commercial, private aircraft. Because the rules are intended to apply to private use for a single family or corporation, they are far less robust than the commercial standard of Part 135.
Part 135 - Commercial Business Jet Aircraft
Part 135 of the FAA regulations apply to aircraft engaged in common carriage (for hire) of passengers aboard aircraft with less than 31 seats. This includes business jets as well as some commuter aircraft. The maintenance, safety, and operating standards are much more stringent than Part 91 given that these operations are for hire. Makes sense, as Part 135 business jet air charter operators are offering their services to the public for hire, not just to their owner. Think professional sports versus amateur sports - the analogy is spot on.
Okay, But Doesn’t the FAA Oversee Both Types of Private Jet Charter Certifications?
Yes, but here’s why you need to pay attention to what at first glance may appear as a distinction without a difference. According to recent NTSB data, fatalities associated with Part 91 operations outnumber those of Part 135 operations by 18:1. There is a clear correlation between the number of incidents and accidents and under which regulatory certification an aircraft operates. What are some key differences? Help yourself to the comparison chart below:
Why Two Different Standards?
The regulatory rationale is that private owners are free to voluntarily bring up their standards to any level that they wish. As the travel is supposed to be just that, private, the feds don't see the need to force private jet aircraft owners to adhere to a commercial standard. This makes sense, until those aircraft start to leak over into the world of commercial use, a practice appropriately labeled pejoratively as the "gray" charter market.
The L-Word – Liability
If an incident or accident occurs involving a private jet charter flight that you played a part in arranging, one of the first questions asked will be, “What standards did you utilize while procuring the aircraft?” The liability of selecting the aircraft remains with you if you had any part in arranging it, even if it was donated. While a private jet aircraft owner can choose to maintain their aircraft according to standards that are ostensibly equivalent to commercial standards, it’s a black box in that you can never know for sure. We kindly direct you back to the comparison chart. There is a lot of room for gray areas on the private side (Part 91). This liability extends not only to staff, but anyone else that might fly on the aircraft, including talent.
Are Your Clients Paying Attention?
Even if you are not party to your clients' private jet travel arrangements, you should be asking them some questions about how they score their business jets. While borrowing a not-for-hire Part 91 aircraft is is often free, it comes at the real cost of demonstrably less regulatory oversight of pilots, aircraft and maintenance. 18:1 - remember, that's the ratio of accidents for private versus commercially operated business jets.
The tragic results have played out countless times; entertainers and athletes have had their lives cut short either dabbling as pilots, buying private air charter on price alone, or not engaging in any vetting whatsoever of the aircraft they are putting themselves and their family members on. Particularly concerning is when the onus to arrange private jet travel falls to a third-party, travel that is often related to an event appearance. When a shiny-looking jet shows up, how are the passengers to know from whence it came?
Reputable brokers and air charter operators utilize third party audit companies that can provide clients with information such as pilot experience, certifications, medical status, aircraft age, and operator incident and accident history. They also have invaluable market knowledge about what operators are high quality and what ones should be avoided. Ask your air charter broker what audit standards they have available and obtain an audit report. Ask questions and don't take your safety or your client's for granted.
Maintaining the standards of Part 135 certification in and of itself is not an easy undertaking. It's expensive. Plus, these operators are for-profit entities. Of course pricing will be higher - hard to compete against free or deeply discounted aircraft (much of this type of activity is illegal by the way). The difference of course in what you are getting is significant, so don't ignore it.
While privately-owned non-commercial Part 91 aircraft can be and often are extremely well-maintained, the regulatory standards are lower, and it is anyone's guess as to what additional standards are being voluntarily to enhance safety. The best advice we can give if you or any of your clients need to charter a private jet is to utilize a professionally vetted commercial Part 135 business jet operator.