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					Unlike the Airlines You Can Check the Safety of Charter Operations
By Judy Sarles


After disclosures this year about some domestic air carriers failing to comply with airworthiness
directives, business people will likely add the availability of resources to check operational safety to
the reasons they are increasingly choosing to charter an aircraft rather than book a commercial flight.

In March, the public started to become alarmed about the safety of commercial flights when the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered an audit of the maintenance records of every U.S.
airline in response to accounts of Southwest Airlines’ noncompliance with required safety
inspections. Even though the FAA’s safety audit found there was 99 percent airline compliance with
its airworthiness directives, Southwest, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines added
to the public’s flying jitters by canceling a number of flights in order to conduct unscheduled aircraft
safety inspections.

Along with the concern about the safety of commercial flights, one of the chief reasons business
people are turning to charter is convenience. They can travel on their own schedule not on an
airline’s schedule. Charter often makes it easier than the airlines to get to out-of-the-way places
because airline destinations are mostly major cities. By chartering an aircraft, the expense of
overnight lodging, meals, and car rental is frequently eliminated. Charter travel is also attractive to
business people because it is not restricted by many of the annoyances of airline flights, such as long
lines at security checkpoints, overbooked and missed connecting flights, late arrivals and delayed
departures, confined seating, and lost or misdirected baggage.

Although the concern about the safety of commercial flights and convenience make it easy for
business people to embrace charter, they still need to verify a charter company’s safety records and
the qualifications of its flight crew. What separates most charter operators from the commercial
airlines is that the charter operators voluntarily submit to third-party safety audits and information
about their safety records is readily available.

Business people should inquire about safety prior to booking a charter flight. Many of them never ask
questions about the charter operator, the flight crew, or the aircraft.

“A lot of times a business client will just assume because we’re a certified charter operator that’s
good enough for them,” says Dwayne McMurry, director of operations at Corporate Flight
Management in Smyrna, Tenn.

For their well being, business people should find out whether they are reserving a flight with a top-
rated charter operator like Corporate Flight Management, which aims for the highest safety standards
possible, or one that barely fulfills FAA standards.


 Charter operators serving the public must be certified by the FAA. They have to comply with
Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) for operations, maintenance, and safety, and their pilots are
required to have specific qualifications. The FARs set a level for crew rest, physical examinations,
and a stringent anti-drug program.
Business people should check whether the charter operator has a current FAA Air Carrier Operating
Certificate. The FAA recommends that charter customers ask what name appears on the certificate
and what the certificate number is. They ought to find out the name and telephone number of the
FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) that monitors the certificate and the name of the FAA
principle operations inspector, who can verify that the operator meets FAA safety standards. It’s
important to know whether the FAA has put any limitations on the charter operations, such as
prohibiting international flights or trips under instrument flight rules.

Third-Party Auditors
To find charter operators that strive to surpass the FAA’s minimum safety requirements, some
business people rely on safety reports from third-party auditors, such as Aviation Research
Group/U.S. (ARG/US) and Wyvern. Charter companies hire ARG/US or Wyvern to perform on-site
safety inspections. Outstanding results from an ARG/US on-site safety audit may lead to the award of
a Gold Plus or Platinum (the highest rating) certificate, which is good for two years. Customers of
Wyvern depend on The Wyvern Report to determine which charter operators to use.

ARG/US offers several options for evaluating the safety of a charter operation. ARG/US subscribers
have access to Charter Evaluation & Qualification (CHEQ), an online program with a searchable
database that has the histories and safety ratings of U.S. charter operators.

In addition to safety reports, CHEQ provides information on a pilot’s experience, pilot certificates,
aircraft registrations, operator certificates, accident and incident reports, enforcement actions, and
operator ownership and management. Nonsubscribers can use the CHEQ system but in limited ways.

Data compiled for the CHEQ program forms the basis for the ARG/US executive summary, assigned
rating, and graphic representation of the operator’s three-year safety rating trend.

The CHEQ program includes TripCHEQ, a service that immediately confirms aircraft and flight-crew
qualifications for a scheduled charter flight. The program supplies data on pilot certifications,
aircraft type ratings, accidents, incidents, violations, operator certificates, operational control of an
aircraft, and aircraft insurance levels.
Charter operators that meet the Wyvern Standard are included in The Wyvern Report, an online
safety information service containing audit reports and details about the company, aircraft, pilots, and
insurance coverage. The Wyvern Standard uses measurements developed with the assistance of The
Wyvern Customer Advisory Board to evaluate safety in all areas of a charter operation, including
maintenance.

Charter operators that are Wyvern members have access to Wyvern’s Pilot & Aircraft Safety Survey
(PASS) online system that produces certificates for customers that confirm a scheduled flight’s
aircraft and crew have met The Wyvern Standard.

Questions to Ask
The few business people who ask charter operators questions about safety usually make just a small
number of inquiries. They typically ask about pilot qualifications, the number of flight hours pilots
have, and the last time the pilots received training. That’s about it.

Other questions business people ought to ask charter operators include what company provides your
liability insurance coverage? And how much coverage do you carry? Once the amount of insurance
coverage is known, charter customers will have to decide whether they are comfortable with it.
Charter operators should have at least $10 million in liability coverage. Some charter companies
carry liability limits of $50 million or more.

Business people also need to know how long a charter operator has been in business, the type and age
of the charter company’s aircraft, and what kind of training pilots receive. Is it training in the aircraft
or simulator-based training? It is important to ask whether the training is above the level required by
the FAA. Customers should also find out how many hours each crew member has accumulated in the
make/model of the aircraft and be certain that pilots with little experience in an aircraft are
accompanied by pilots who have much more experience. Charter customers should ask whether
flight duty and rest regulations will prevent the pilots and crew on the departing flight from being
assigned to the return flight. If that is the case, customers will need to review the qualifications of the
second set of pilots and crew.

The National Business Aviation Association suggests that customers look at the appearance of the
aircraft they are chartering. It may need repairs or a good cleaning. Does the aircraft have updated
avionics? Business people should ask whether the aircraft has gone through any major
refurbishments that may affect its performance.

Inquiries should be made about the maintenance status of the aircraft and how a maintenance incident
would be handled if one occurs during flight. Business people ought to find out whether the aircraft
is maintained by a factory service center, a local repair station, or in-house mechanics. If a factory
service center isn’t doing the maintenance, are the mechanics well-trained to work on a specific
aircraft?

In addition, it’s essential to know whether charter operators have had any aircraft accidents, incidents,
or FAA violations in the past five years, and if so, whether the operators have done anything to
strengthen their safety procedures. It’s easy to examine a charter operator’s safety records because
they are posted on the National Transportation Safety Board Web site (www.ntsb.gov).

Business people scheduling an international flight should ask whether operators are authorized to fly
to a particular country and whether the operators have experience flying into, within and out of that
country. Does the operator need to take additional security and safety measures when a charter flight
travels to another country?

If a flight will pass over difficult terrain, such as a mountainous region, or land at an airport with a
difficult approach, customers ought to know how well-trained the crew is to handle the situation.

Even if they are not ARG/US or Wyvern customers, business people can still ask charter operators
whether or not they have had a third-party audit. If an audit hasn’t been performed, it doesn’t mean
the charter operator is disreputable, it just means an audit hasn’t been requested. If an audit has been
performed, then business people can ask what ARG/US rating the charter operation received or if the
operation met The Wyvern Standard.

More Ways to Check Safety
Some major corporations are very sophisticated about safety and hire their own auditors or send out
their flight department’s chief pilot to do onsite audits of charter operators.
“We were involved with a Fortune 500 company that hired an outside consultant,” says Elis Olsson,
director of operations at Martinair Inc., a Richmond, Va.-based charter operator. “He was not with
ARG/US or Wyvern; it was just an individual with a lot of aviation experience.”

The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) has on its Web site (www.ibac.org) a list of
accredited auditors knowledgeable about aviation operations.            Auditors meeting specific
qualifications and with the right experience can be accredited by IBAC.

A few businesses use a questionnaire to acquire the information they need about the safety program
of a charter operator. The questionnaires’ questions are similar to those that have been mentioned
above.
“The questions in the questionnaires that we get are very good questions,” says Thomas T. “Mike”
Mickel Jr., president and CEO of Dominion Aviation Services, a charter company also based in
Richmond. “Someone has obviously put some time into thinking about what really means the most.”

To find a safe charter operator, some businesses rely on word of mouth or recommendations posted
on message boards by other businesses. Often businesses turn to their regular charter operator for
suggestions. For instance, an East Coast charter operator may know of a dependable charter operator
on the West Coast.

Safety cannot be taken for granted when business people charter an aircraft. By asking several
questions, they should have a better idea of a charter operator’s reliability and degree of concern for
safety. Once they have that information, they can sit back and enjoy a flight free of the safety
concerns and inconvenience of a commercial flight.

				
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