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Illegal Charter

Illegal Charter

For over 70 years The Air Charter Association has been heavily involved in educating the public and Governments about the risks of illegal charters. However, they still occur on a daily basis around the world, carrying increased risk to the travelling public, damaging the reputation of a very professional legal industry and impacting businesses and careers.

In order to legally hire an aircraft, it must be operating on a charter licence (known by a variety of names such as an “Air Operator’s Certificate”, a “Part 135 Certificate”) and flown by Commercial Pilots.

Legal Charter aircraft are operated by companies that have the same organisational structures as international airlines, covering the full management of safety, security, risk, compliance, ground operations, flights operations and training. They are audited regularly by the Aviation Authorities, have professional safety and compliance management systems in place and operate to the highest possible standards of safety in a highly technical industry.

Illegal Charters are invariably managed solely by one or two pilots with no organisational depth behind them, no oversight, reduced training and no independent safety checking of how they are operating. The best analogy is a licensed taxi-cab versus an unlicensed minicab, only without the ability to stop on the side of the road when you’re not comfortable.

The incidence of illegal charters is higher than most would believe and The Air Charter Association and the industry in general receives reports regularly of such flights taking place, and works closely with Aviation Authorities around the world to seek to stop them, in order to protect the travelling public.

Why are we so concerned about illegal charter?

The reason The Air Charter Association has such strong views on illegal charters is very simple – they do not have the layers of safety, security, risk and compliance management that legal charter operators put into their flights. We are an industry that sets out to protect the travelling public as best we can, and we firmly believe that illegal charters increase the risk to passengers on those flights and tarnish the reputation of the professionals in our industry who operate within the law.


When a licensed air carrier’s flight takes off, every detail of the flight has been scrutinised by layers of oversight, ensuring that the pilots are appropriately licensed, fully trained in normal and emergency procedures every six months, through auditing the services of third parties such as fuel companies and handling agents to making sure that the flight’s operation is carried out with the least risk possible, taking away all of the commercial pressures from the flight and ground crew, so that they are solely focussed on the journey itself. In an illegal charter, invariably, all of that work is carried out by the pilot, with nobody checking their work.

Day Leasing

Day leasing is a term used when an aircraft owner ‘leases’ their aircraft to another person for a short period to undertake a flight. During the period of the lease, the lessor becomes the operator of the aircraft and all responsibilities and accountabilities of being in control of that aircraft pass across to the charterer.

When leasing an aircraft, the lessor must separately hire an independent Commercial Pilot to operate the aircraft.
Whilst technically legal, the Association is concerned that the end-users of such arrangements may not be fully aware of the differences between flying on an aircraft which is commercially registered and operated by a licensed air carrier, and flying on one which is leased for a day, both in terms of safety and in terms of accountability.

When an aircraft is legally chartered, the responsibilities remain with the aircraft operator; they undertake all of the planning, safety, compliance and operational requirements.

When leased, the aircraft operator is the person leasing that aircraft and they are now ultimately responsible for planning, safety, compliance and operations – whilst these tasks can be delegated to the pilot they have hired, the accountability in the event of an accident or incident remains with the lessor. This could give rise to litigation
and criminal charges in the event any shortcuts or illegalities have taken place.

And this really is where the Association’s concerns lie. As an industry we seek to protect the travelling public and minimise the, already very small, risks of flying. We believe that unless the lessor is fully aware of the different level of oversight that a day leased aircraft operates under and the full responsibility and accountability that being a lessor involves, then it is unfair of aircraft owners to put them into that position and would simply recommend using a straightforward, competitive licensed air carrier and aircraft for their flight requirements.