What makes a charter flight illegal? The ACA has advice for passengers to ensure private air travel remains safe and regulated.
How can you ensure your charter flight is operating legally? The Air Charter Association (ACA) is raising awareness about the dangers of taking unregulated and uncertified flights following 2019’s high-profile Piper PA-46 crash in the English Channel.
Fly Legal Day
Commemorating the tragic loss of Argentine Footballer Emiliano Sala on January 21, 2019, the ACA has set out to ensure passengers are aware of the status of their charter services with the launch of Fly Legal Day.
Although illegal, unregulated flights operated by pilots or carriers without a valid Air Operator Certificate (AOC) still frequently happen in Europe and beyond, putting unsuspecting passengers at risk. Typical charter services are subject to strict safety regulations by aviation authorities and must meet specific training and maintenance guidelines to carry fee-paying passengers. In contrast, illegal services are not held to the same standards.
“Commercial flights are carried out for reward and private flights are not. Only companies holding an air operator’s certificate (AOC) may fly commercial operations. Illegal charters are flown on private aircraft where the operator doesn’t have an AOC and is not legally entitled to accept payment for the trip,” ACA Chief Executive Glenn Hogben explained in a statement provided to Runway Girl Network.
“Air charter brokers understand the documentation and requirements, but the bar to entry into the industry is unfortunately low. It is relatively easy to create a website and set up as a broker, so we recommend only using accredited members of the ACA or looking for other industry certified accreditations.”
However, Hogben maintained that most illegal charters are not deliberate and happen inadvertently due to a lack of awareness of the law, with the ACA advising business and private travelers to only book with accredited ACA members to ensure all flights are operated within the law. Passengers should ensure AOCs, airworthiness certificates, and insurance information is valid with brokers before travel and double-check that the pilot is correctly qualified to operate the flight.
The ACA provides a complete list of all its internationally licensed brokers and airlines within its directory.
Photo: Thierry Weber / Shutterstock
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While 2019’s accident and subsequent legal battles brought the topic to the mainstream, the ACA has been campaigning for improved regulation and heightened awareness of unregulated charter services for several years.
National aviation regulators, including the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), have already sought to crack down on illegal operators. Regulation remains significantly time-consuming, with ex-FAA counselor Loretta Alkalay admitting the difficulty of tracking and prosecuting offenders. Despite the challenges, the FAA was able to charge two notable carriers for illegal operations in 2022, tightening its oversight of the charter industry.
Further action was taken in the United Kingdom by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) following the publication of the final report on the Piper PA-46 crash. The regulator launched a similar “Legal to Fly” campaign, informing passengers on consumer laws to prevent further accidents. Similar to the ACA, the CAA advises passengers on the legal complexities of air chartering and encourages the reporting of potential unregulated services via its website.
What are your thoughts on Fly Legal Day? What other ways could the ACA raise awareness of illegal charter flights? Let us know in the comments.
Sources: Runway Girl Network, Bloomberg, Aerotime