Then, too, charter brokerages play an increasingly important part in informing passengers — and protecting them from illegal commercial operators. Ballough believes that brokers have “an obligation when they advertise to let the public know up front that they will book their flights through an air carrier but that they themselves are not air carriers. Brokers are not regulated, but it would be nice to see them registered with the DOT. It is an economic issue, and if they had to register, that would weed out a lot of the bad actors.”

PrivatAir's Thomas, speaking from the European perspective, concurred, saying “Brokers play a big role in this.” He noted that “sometimes you get entrants who don't understand the rules or the capabilities of the aircraft. It's ironic that if you book a holiday, you're protected through bonding practices, but if you do a hundred-thousand-dollar charter, no one is regulating that.”

He also addressed the issue of charter operators' insurance coverage. “If an aircraft owner who is not a commercial operator takes money from a fare, the insurance on the aircraft is voided because the insurer is underwriting a private operation. Premiums for private operations are much less expensive than those for commercial flying. And in the event of an accident, the surviving passengers or families of victims injured or killed will quickly learn that the insurer won't pay compensation — the policy on the aircraft will have been voided due to the illegality of the operation.”

Again, Thomas maintained, the customer must ask the operator the right questions and demand to see the operator's AOC and proof of proper insurance coverage. On the other hand, “Some customers are cognizant of the fact that the aircraft they are taking is not qualified, but they are ready to take a better deal. And the perpetrators will charge less money. There is an assumption on the part of the public that this is regulated. It's important that the public be informed about the benefits of a regulated operation, and that's what [legitimate commercial operators like PrivatAir] pride ourselves on.”

In the meantime, Jackie Rosser has an action plan for NATA, “to push the FAA to dedicate resources to ferreting out illegal activity and then working with the FAA and DOT to create consumer-friendly ways to validate legal operators. Ultimately the consumer assumes that the FAA and DOT are in charge of these things . . . and they aren't. There is a fair amount of caveat emptor, but we have to provide them with the tools. The information is out there; it just has to be presented to the public in a manner that is clear and easy to access.” BCA