Black market air charter is alive and well in Europe, the Middle East – and the U.S.A. How do we stop it?
A Cautionary Tale
The EBAA is addressing two “issues” regarding illegal charters on the Continent, Humphries said: “the guy without an AOC offering himself for charter, [which is] a safety issue, and the operator flying trips without a permit, an economic issue.” The uncertificated operator represents the more dangerous of the two and the one the EBAA is primarily targeting in its consumer-education campaign.
“Concerning the second group, those operating without permits,” Humphries continued, “if you are an EU operator, that is, registered in one of the 27 EU member countries, you can fly charters to any other EU country, as the EU is considered a single aviation market. “But conversely, if you are an EU operator and want to fly to a non-EU country, you can do so only if there's a bilateral agreement [between that country and the EU]. So if I'm operating to a country without a bilateral, then you have to have a permit. This is an economic issue.”
He went on to note that U.S. or other non-EU operators who want to fly from an EU country to their countries of registry will also need approval “because the departments of transportation of the countries concerned have to issue them a ‘non-objection' permit.”
This type of operation is becoming more common in Europe due to the posting of “open legs” on the Internet by operators and charter brokers (see “The Empty Leg Syndrome,” February 2010, page 32). “The usual scenario involves a foreign operator that flies a one-way fare into EU territory,” Humphries said, “then wants to sell the return leg rather than repositioning home. If the operator is playing by the rules — and many, we suspect, are not — it must apply to the relevant transportation ministry for the non-objection permit whereby the authorities post the flight to determine if any locally based operators object to the foreign operator competing with them for the trip. We note that a lot of U.S. operators are advertising empty legs for this purpose . . . and many seem to be unaware that they need this permit.”
Asked if any of these foreign-registered airplanes picking up charters in European territory illegally were American, PrivatAir's Thomas exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Many of the violators are N-registered business jets. They'll fly the Atlantic on a one-way and will look for a fare to get home or to make some money while they're over here. This is a common practice and quite typical when times are economically difficult, as we've seen the last few years. Essentially it is a violation of cabotage rules [that vary from country to country], which is why it is illegal.
“Because of the size of your country and the huge amount of airspace above it,” Thomas continued, “American operators become accustomed to not having to worry about crossing borders when they fly their missions. You can fly for 5 hr. in the United States without crossing a border; however, in Europe, 30 sec. after takeoff from Geneva, you can be in France and 15 min. later in Italy.” Although European airspace has become a lot freer — in principle — cabotage rules still apply, making it very difficult for EU operators, as well, to operate intra-country flights. “For example,” Thomas pointed out, “a German operator can't do a France-to-France flight without approval from the French authorities.”
But to the Europeans, the private operator selling seats on non-qualifying aircraft “is the more worrying one because there is a good reason why there is a difference between private and commercial flying, and it is to assure that the safety of the passengers is protected,” Thomas observed. “The concept behind private flying is that it is the owner controlling the operation and that the owner is therefore free to apply whatever standards he or she wants to [his or her] flying. But if you're flying the public and extracting fares from them for the service [i.e., “holding out”] you are responsible for assuring the safety of the operation [to mandated commercial standards].”