FAA has warnings about illegal plane charters
Everyone wants an affordable flight, but everyone also wants to come back home alive.
FARGO — While North Dakota State University football fans may be considering using a charter air service to fly to Frisco, Texas for the national championship, the FAA also encourages these fans to ensure they hire qualified pilots and well-maintained planes.
More than a year ago, a small plane veered off a runway at Hector International Airport and crashed at the north end of the airfield.
Miraculously, the pilot and 10 passengers in the Cessna Citation II, a business jet, sustained only minor injuries during the crash.
The National Transportation and Safety Board's report of the crash included a statement from a witness who was on the ground. He told the NTSB, "He watched the plane fall out of the sky". Investigators eventually discovered the Fargo-Moorhead pilot was not qualified to pilot charter flights.
The NTSB said several seats in the plane were removed or changed to accommodate a couch for more passengers.
The Fargo Jet Center in Fargo has been a long-time charter operator and broker. Its pilots and planes have met strict requirements to be part of the charter company.
"The Fargo Jet Center as a charter operator is held to a higher standard than say, a private airplane operator...someone who flies it for themselves," said Darren Hall, vice president of marketing for the Fargo Jet Center.
FAA shared new policy guidelines regarding illegal air charters on Dec. 19, calling them a serious safety hazard to the traveling public. The owners of the Fargo Jet Center have served on national charter safety boards and say the key is for the consumer to be aware.
"If you're actually booking a charter, ask, 'Can I see your charter certificate, your certificate of insurance?'," Hall said.
In addition to insurance, the FAA instructs customers to ask for an Air Carrier Certificate, the safety authorization form from the U.S. Department of Transporation. Any person or business who wants to provide an air transportation service must obtain this certificate.
Lastly, if the price seems "too good to be true", then the air service might have some issues. Be suspicious if the pilot does not provide a safety briefing or seems evasive when asked about charter qualifications.
The local FAA can help people to locate a pilot's certifications or information about individual planes.
Some additional sources for getting information on pilots and aircraft:
- National Business Aviation Association - Podcast about illegal charter operations
- Risks of Flying with illegal charter operators - NBAA article
- Safe Air Charter Operations - FAA article
- Fly Smarter: Avoid Illegal Charter
- Avoid Illegal Charter for passengers
- Illegal Charter Reporting Hotline - Air Charter Safety Foundation