There's no Plane for my Team - Wait, What?
In our more than twenty years of arranging air charter for sports teams, we have seen this scenario play out far too many times; a team books a charter flight, or maybe even the entire season with an air charter broker or charter airline that is offering pricing well below the market, a wide open schedule, and an aircraft that seems like the perfect fit. Invariably, either days before the air charter flight is scheduled to depart or quite often the day of, the bad news arrives. There will be no departure. Not only is your contracted air charter flight not happening, the money that you paid for the air charter transportation is at risk.
How do Teams Find Themselves in This Position?
Most often in these situations, an offer comes along that looks like it will be extraordinarily easy on the budget, and it is tempting to take advantage of it. Sometimes, a great price is just that. Purchasing is happy, the team is happy and the air charter broker and charter airline do a great job. As we are seeing again this year however, several teams are not getting the low price along with the value that they had hoped for. What they are getting is disappointment. Not only are aircraft not showing up for charter flights and putting entire seasons in jeopardy, it turns out that there were never any aircraft to begin with.
The Promise of Spectacular Air Charter Pricing
Speculators put out pricing and then hope that they can somehow cover it with aircraft that they claim are being brought to the market, or they are going to achieve the savings via consolidation (check out our other blog about the con of consolidation). The DOT requires that prior to contract, the air charter broker or travel company must disclose the identity of the operator. This is not only the regulation, it is just good business practice. After all, how would you otherwise make comparisons between charter airlines and what they are offering for charter flights for your sports team? It is also a regulatory violation for an anyone to offer air charter transportation on spec when they don't in fact have an offer to provide the transportation from a certificated entity - in other words a real airline.
If you hear anything along the lines of, "We are getting A320s/737-800s/767-300ERS/hot air balloons/rocket ships/drones" your BS radar needs to be on high alert. While many reputable air charter brokers and airlines work together to bring new aircraft to the marketplace, too often these are characters that have no business (or DOT authority) to make this claim.
This Keeps Happening to Sports Teams
This year's latest disappointments for a number of sports teams appear to be caused by a Part 135 business jet operator claiming to be "getting 737s/A320s" (kind of vague, right?). It is illegal for a business jet operator with a Part 135 certificate to offer, much less contract Part 121 (airline) transportation on aircraft that they are not authorized to operate, as they do not have the certificate authority to do so.
When you hear this type of pitch, run in the other direction. Or, at the very least, ask lots of questions. There just is not enough aircraft utilization for football flying to support bringing new aircraft on for that sole purpose. Not even close. Unfortunately, unsavory types will claim to be "getting" these aircraft when in fact they just hope to grab enough business so they can force a down-and-out airline to take a bulk deal that is far below market. Or, they are just so uninformed about aircraft economics and regulations that they really believe that adding aircraft onto a certificate is financially viable as well as easy. Obviously the people that are at the most risk under these schemes are the sports teams that bought in.
Separating the Quality Air Charter Players From the Speculators
We get it, price matters. That said, value matters even more. To understand the value of a particular offer, you need to know exactly what is being proposed. If the pricing is based on aircraft not yet in the marketplace, that should be very concerning to buyers. Ask for confirmation from the certificated 121 airline that the proposed aircraft will indeed be on their certificate in time for your air charter flights. Ask how many aircraft are in the airline's fleet now, and what type of aircraft. Adding a different aircraft type to a certificate can be time-consuming and the process is often delayed. This can occur even with the best airlines. If the company pitching the low pricing cannot even tell you what operator will fly the aircraft, that should be a nonstarter (not to mention it is illegal).
How to Break the Cycle
Many teams and their purchasing departments are too embarrassed to speak up after getting taken, and they just want to move on. This only makes the problem worse, as offenders can carry on year after year with little, if any, repercussions. If your organization has been victimized, contact a reputable air charter broker that is well-versed in the regulations for advice. Regulators often move more quickly when the end-user has been harmed rather than hearing rumors. Talk to other teams that have been affected, and discuss working together on the issue. Air charter brokerage and airline associations are great resources for help in these situations.
After more then twenty years arranging team charter, we still see these unethical practices every season and in virtually every sport. Purchasing departments and teams need to stop letting just anyone submit bids, and even worse, accepting those proposals, and sending funds without understanding who they are doing business with. Sports teams need the flexibility to consider value metrics other than lowest price. Ask questions, check references carefully. An unknown company being able to offer pricing that is substantially lower than the market should raise red flags and be cause for more due diligence. If the aircraft offered aren't already flying, or a reputable air charter airline is not proposing to add them, pass on the offer. You'll be glad you did.