There are four ways for you to to legally fly on an aircraft:
1) An aircraft you own, operated under FAR Part 91;
2) An aircraft you pay to charter, operated under FAR Part 135 and on someone’s charter certificate;
3) A dry-leased aircraft operated under FAR Part 91, operated by a crew of YOUR choosing, not by assignment;
4) An aircraft being demonstrated for the purposes of a resale in accordance with Part 91.501(b)3).
To someone on the outside, especially to the person who may be ignorant, willfully or not, of these regulations, the difference is almost none. Ultimately, all they are concerned with and able to see is the cost and that they successfully got to and from Point A or Point B.
So what really IS the difference, why is ILLEGAL AIR CHARTER a problem and what’s really wrong with it?
The FAA sets guidelines for the operation of aircraft under CFR Title 14 FAR’s Part 91 and 135. There are LOTS of small differences between the two but as the FAA will tell you, it’s all about SAFETY.
In short, Part 91 aircraft and their crews do not have to be maintained or trained to anywhere near the standards that Part 135 aircraft do. In the most substantial way, Part 135 requires that any aircraft operated on a charter operators certificate comply with ALL the aircraft manufacturers recommended maintenance, not just the minimum mandatory requirements specified under Part 91.
That’s not to suggest that, what we call “Part 91-only aircraft," are inherently unsafe or that an aircraft owner should maintain their aircraft to the higher Part 135 standards, it’s simply that you, as the person who is likely paying for the flight, have and maintain “Operation Control” of the aircraft.
This is a very important buzz word to the FAA and it should be for you too. What it means is, you are the person who is responsible for when and where the airplane flies but most importantly, who flies it. That being the case, if you’re unable to ensure what standards the aircraft has been maintained to, you’re unable to say that the plane is safe for flight and if, God forbid, there’s an accident, your neck (and / or your estate’s neck!) may be on the line.
If you’re an aircraft owner, without a doubt, people have approached you about dry-leasing the plane out. If you say yes to this, do so on a very limited basis and make sure that you have a good Aviation Attorney (we suggest Aerlex Law Firm) draw up that Lease Agreement. The reason you do this is so that you can properly convey “OPERATIONAL CONTROL” from yourself to the Dry-Lessee when they are on board the aircraft. If you do not do this and do it properly, you are operating illegally and there is no amount of revenue that can offset the legal liability you’re exposing yourself to.
If you’re someone looking to charter LEGALLY, make sure you check and see if the people you’re “chartering” from are on the FAA’s list of Approved Part 91 Operators and Aircraft. Click here to download the latest Excel Spreadsheet from the FAA directly.
If you’re considering a Dry-Lease arrangement, you need to be sure that you know everything that you need to know (and be able to explain it when asked by the FAA when, not if, they come calling!). That’s not information that we’re going to include here as it is governed by your Dry-Lease Agreement with the aircraft owner, however, you should be clear that whomever you choose to be your pilot(s), even if they are the same pilots the owner of the aircraft uses, they need to be paid by you, separately from the dry-lease. You also need to know that you now posses Operational Control over the Aircraft so you should become familiar with the maintenance standards of the owner of the Aircraft and be sure that there is an insurance policy that covers you, by name.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve obviously decided to wade down into the mud and get into the details. Here is some more great reading from the FAA themselves: https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_91-37B.pdf
For more information or questions, please contact us here.