How does an aircraft become a “charter plane?”

So you call for a charter, you show up when you want to go, and you take your trip, easy right, not really, an enormous amount of effort by the operator goes into making that aircraft available for you to charter and to complete your trip safely and in the most efficient means possible, so let’s see what it takes, shall we?

First and foremost your friendly charter guy at your local airport is an airline, just like Delta and United, just an unscheduled one instead of a scheduled one that can post where and when they will fly, but he is still an airline nonetheless. So, he must follow all the same regulations as the larger carriers while working with a smaller clientele, this is a very important point, so when some pilot offers to fly you somewhere just like a charter flight, be extremely cautious, it is not like a charter service unless they have been approved by the FAA to do so and flying with Joe pilot could put you and your colleagues in a very dangerous situation, ask lots of questions, if it sounds to good to be true price wise, it probably is.

Once an operator decides which type of aircraft will work best for his operation, he goes into the market to either buy it himself or lease it from an aircraft owner for charter use, this is a very common arraignment, some aircraft owners have the benefit of a larger aircraft because of the charter operators use is offsetting their ownership costs and it is a relationship that is mutually beneficial for all parties. When I am acquiring an aircraft for myself (Charter Company) or for an owner that is going to place it in our operation, I am always looking for the best value, yes, I said value, not the cheapest plane on the market, but the one that is going to provide the best in terms of operational cost, load factor and return on investment. No plane does everything well, that is why there are
so many types available, so I really need to understand my or the clients needs before I start banging on aircraft sellers doors.

Once the type of aircraft is determined, I explore all areas of the marketplace, this can be a little tedious, but sometimes the best aircraft can be found by looking under all the “rocks”, as I begin to zero in on a few candidates, I really ask the probing questions, any damage, completeness of logs, etc. and it being a dealer plane or a private seller makes no difference, I have seen both trying to steer me away from finding hidden issues with aircraft, so I try to have as complete a picture as I can before I fly somewhere to see a plane, the Director of Maintenance(DOM) and I already have looked at copies of the logbooks and determined if it is worth going or not, and once we decide to go, we have a plan of attack ready. An aircraft purchase for many people can be a very emotional experience, they fall in love with the plane before they even see it and it goes downhill from there, I have bought and sold a lot of planes and there is no room for emotion during a transaction, it clouds your judgment and you can end up with a pig in a poke, believe me, I have seen it many times. As part of our attack plan, we have a few deal killers, bad paperwork, undisclosed damage, vague flight logs, or if something just doesn’t add up or the seller appears that they are just not being truthful, the DOM and I have done this enough that if either one of us has a weird feeling we walk away, it is a lot cheaper in the long run than buying a bad airplane. After we have opened panels and had a general look around to confirm what the logs are saying, we decide to either move to a full pre-purchase inspection or annual, depending on its status, and one of us will stay with the aircraft at a maintenance facility until that is complete gathering data for the next part of the plan, conformity.

So what is conformity you ask? Conformity is what the FAA expects the charter operator to do to the aircraft before requesting to put it on their certificate. Gather data, confirm data, complete data, in a nutshell, we tell, I should say, we promise that this aircraft meets all the parameters in its original type certificate, the Federal Air Regulations(FARs) and any modifications(FAA Form 337) are correct and legal. Then and only then will the FAA come inspect and insure that what we have stated and provided about the aircraft is true and they will add it to our certificate, this can be a lengthy process, so you can see starting with the right aircraft is very important. That right aircraft will have low airframe time, low or zero time engine(s) or will be sufficiently discounted for high time engines, have fully functioning modern avionics or will be discounted for outdated equipment.

This is by no means a complete guide to purchasing an aircraft, I have been doing this for more than 15 years, so the best advice I can give is hire a professional that you can have a good working relationship with, you will be glad you did.

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