In Europe, the EBAA's Humphries said, enforcement of charter regulations “is very light — the French are more rigorous than others, and the U.K. has said it will start to clamp down. These things are difficult to enforce, though. That is why we in the EBAA are tending to approach it from a different direction by informing passengers and charter brokers of the [illegal] practices. We've had more than 4,000 leaflets [actually a pamphlet available on the EBAA website at www.ebaa.org titled Is My Flight Legal?] requested from our members. It is a concentrated-action campaign. We are not policemen, we are an association whose remit is the encouragement of best practices, and we are trying to work with the authorities, brokers and users, and our approach is education.”

The phrase “ignorant public” was coined by the U.S. DOT to denote the laypeople — airline or charter customers who would otherwise not be expected to be conversant with FARs and mandated safety requirements — who trust their lives to certificated air carriers on the assumption the companies are abiding by the rules.

Now, given the haphazard government policing of violators, charter customers are forced into being advocates for their own safety, that is, being better informed about the pitfalls of flying with illegal operators. The NBAA and NATA have published their own consumer guides to explain the ins and outs of air charter and its providers. The NBAA's is the Aircraft Charter Consumer Guide. Simultaneously, NATA released two pamphlets, Chartering an Aircraft: A Consumer Guide and Risk of Illegal Charter. All are free and downloadable at the organizations' websites: www.nbaa.org/charter and www.nata.aero.

NATA's Rosser believes a three-pronged approach must be made if “we are going to be serious” about addressing illegal charter. For the first prong, she wants the FAA to empower a hit team to “go around the country and spot-check Part 91 operators, those that are not on an AOC, with the authority to prosecute violators.”

The second prong, of course, is consumer education. In addition to the consumer guides cited, Rosser maintains that the industry must “alert the media that illegal chartering goes on and that people are risking their lives by flying with the bogus operators. A very low price offered for a charter should be a concern, it should raise red flags in the consumer's mind.”

The third prong — really part of the consumer ed campaign — is to teach charter customers to verify that air carriers hold AOCs, “that the aircraft they're putting me on is actually on their certificate, and that they are eligible to conduct operations. Right now that is difficult to find out.”

And that information must be easily accessible. Currently, Rosser said, interested consumers can “go to av-info.faa.gov/opcert.asp and verify that an operator has an AOC, unravel dba's, find the FSDO that has authority over them, and determine the number and types of aircraft the operator is fielding. But they don't give you tail numbers for determining whether an aircraft is actually on the operator's certificate. So the only way to really know is to use one of the auditing services like Wyvern or to call the FSDO to verify whether an aircraft is on the operator's certificate. The point is that there is no easy way to do this.”

Passengers have a “right to know” they are flying on a certified air carrier, Ballough asserted. “Having said that, the industry needs to educate the public to ask the right questions when they charter a flight. I would compare it to what taxi cabs are required to do in posting a ‘bill of rights' for passengers in the cabs. We need to educate the public such that they understand that, when they charter, it must be on a certified FAR Part 135 air carrier, that it's in their own best interest to assure that.”

In the U.S., South Florida has long been known as a nest of shady aviation activity, and bogus charter is high on the list of infractions with little, if any, enforcement. Thus, the charter customer in Florida or elsewhere must be especially discerning in selecting and evaluating a prospective carrier. Advertising, especially on the Internet, should be carefully scrutinized. Offers of pilot training on cross-country flights as an alternative to charter (when, in fact, there is no intent to provide flight instruction), cross-country “demo flights,” or pricing significantly lower than that of established charter providers listing their AOC numbers and auditors (e.g., Wyvern, Argus, etc.) should immediately hoist Rosser's red flags. As should brokers claiming to be operators fielding “fleets” of aircraft. Just as in any endeavor, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.