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Aero-Views:Times Blasts Charter Safety Record

NYT Warning On Charters: Do We Have A Problem Here?

By ANN Senior Editor Pete Combs

In my other life -- the one I live before running into the phone booth, donning my red cape and editing Aero-News every day -- I'm a local radio news guy. As such, I interact freely with the host of our morning talk show (WINK/WNOG in Fort Myers and Naples, FL). Many times, I find myself defending my profession against a barrage of criticism about media bias. A lot of times, my comments amount to, "Don't shoot the messenger."

Case in point: a story published in the New York Times on Tuesday.

In an article entitled, "When Chartering An Airplane, Consider The Numbers," writer Paul Burnham Finney states, "However the numbers are treated, crashes do occur with surprising frequency outside the commercial mainstream of scheduled flights."

Shields up. Prepare to return fire.

He goes on to say, "Charter operators have in recent years posted a particularly dismal record, even though they fly by almost the same book as the airlines, called Federal Aviation Regulations. Charters have to abide by the fine print in Part 135 of the regulations; airlines, by Part 121."

Finney points out that, in 2003, the accident rate for corporate aircraft was approximately .28 occurrences for every 100,000 flight hours. For commercial operations, the rate is about .31 per 100,000 flight hours, while, for Part 135 ops, the accident rate is approximately 2.6 per 100,000 flight hours.

Do we have a problem here?

David Perdue, Jr., CEO of iviation, says perhaps we do. When we showed him the Times article, he agreed that charter operators don't have to abide by the same rules as corporate or scheduled flight services. "Most 135 Operators do not have more stringent standards than the FAR’s and therefore are not very safety conscious," he told ANN. "If the charter flying public had a clue how most 135 operators work, they wouldn’t darken their door."

Perdue agrees that Part 135 operators fly to more unusual destinations on much shorter notice in a greater variety of aircraft. But he suggests the real problem here is a financial one.

"Most 135 operators do not operate above the minimum standards set forth by the FARs," he told ANN. "There is no CRM/HF training, no fatigue awareness training, no increased standards of simple A/C operations.  There is a significant amount of professionalism and on-going training/knowledge that most 135’s and most corporate departments NEVER take advantage of because they don’t want to spend the money."

Iviation's Chief Operating Officer, Chris Kirk, went even further: "The same companies who willingly shell out tens of millions for an airplane won't spend twenty-thousand bucks to provide top-notch human factors or CRM training for their departments.  This doesn't even touch the legitimate concerns for the rest environment and duty times these people are subject to.  And the same boss who has to have all of the bells and whistles hires low-time, inexperienced pilots and pays them wages that often qualify them for government assistance.  Go figure."

If you don't believe that, look at Part 91 corporate flights. NTSB spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi told Finney Part 91 is the least stringent FAR -- and yet, the corporate operations conducted under Part 91 are generally among the safest. She agrees with Perdue that the real reason behind the increased accident numbers for Part 135 operators is money.

"What does matter here," said Kirk, "is how many different airplane types do these pilots fly regularly?  The safest answer, of course, is just one.  But if these guys regularly fly two, three or even more airplane types, the level of confusion rises dramatically during non-normal operations.  This, in turn, increases the probability of screwing something up during a critical phase of flight." Again, fewer pilots flying a wider variety of aircraft can arguably be put down as a function of finances.

So if your corporation can't afford its own aircraft, what's the safest way to fly from Point A to Point B? Try fractionals, like those offered by NetJets. In 15 years of operations, there hasn't yet been a single fatality attributed to fractionally-owned aircraft.

Finney takes some pretty vague and unneccesary swipes at alphabet groups like the NBAA for "rushing to defend its 8,000 members." He doesn't go out of his way to quote any of the big charter operators out there. And he further fails to mention that the accident rate for charter ops is still miles below the accident rate for motor vehicles of all kinds.

But, his nasty, chest-beating tone aside, seems to make a point: You get what you pay for and, in trying to cut corners on a charter, you might get a deal that's significantly worse than you envisioned. Finney says the numbers don't lie. Is he wrong?



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