Chuck Simmons asks, “Is Your Charter Operator on the FAA‘s Top “Most Wanted” Outlaw Air Charter List?”
We’ve all read stories about the wild, wild west and the daring outlaws that were larger than life. Gunslingers, card sharks and cattle rustlers. The likes of Jessie James, Billy the Kid and John Wesley Hardin. Men who slept with one eye open and spent their lives looking over their shoulder. Most came to bad endings.
Individuals and/or organizations that perform illegal air charters don’t rob trains or shoot up saloons, but they cheat consumers and defraud them. They represent themselves as being legitimate when they are not. Cutting corners to save a buck, they endanger the lives of their passengers as well as the general public. Some do it out of ignorance. They do not know any better because they did not take the time to educate themselves. Others know the rules but do it anyway in the arrogant belief that nothing bad could happen.
Using the outlaw analogy let’s look at a modern-day story. This is just a vignette. A brief look at an occurrence that really happened. This is what can happen when people do whatever they want with little or no concern for the consequences. Speak of bad endings.
Tower controllers said the Falcon 50 touched down at what they considered a normal speed within the touchdown zone of the runway. Only seconds passed before they noticed that it was not slowing, despite the fact that they could see the thrust reversers deployed. They watched helplessly in disbelief and horror as the scene unfolded.
In the cockpit, the ATP rated pilot applied the brakes and then exclaimed, “Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Where are the brakes? I’ve got no brakes!” A security camera recorded the last moments of the flight as the aircraft departed the far end of the runway and continued over an embankment. When this aircraft left the chocks at the outset of the flight the dice were rolled, but it was not until these final seconds of the journey that the wager was lost, and fate collected her spoils. Both pilots were killed and their two passengers severely injured.
The NTSB investigation reported this to be a revenue flight for which the passengers had been invoiced. What the passengers did not know was that the aircraft they had just paid to transport them was not airworthy. In fact, it had over 100 open discrepancies, items that were not functioning at all, or not functioning properly. It was not current with its inspection cycle. There were airworthiness directives that had not been complied with and the landing gear overhaul was 4 years past due. This aircraft was not safe or legal to release for flight, and yet these outlaws put unsuspecting people on the plane and launched it. What if it were you or your family in the back?
But wait! There’s more.
The Pilot in Command and pilot flying was an ATP rated airman with ample experience overall. But NTSB reports show that he held only an SIC type rating in the Falcon 50. He was not even eligible to be released as PIC! You can get an SIC type rating with minimal time and training. This might be OK if he was paired with an experienced Falcon 50 pilot who was fully PIC type rated and knowledgeable of the airplane. But who was the other pilot? Surely, he was PIC type rated. The pilot not-flying was the charter company’s owner. He held a private pilot certificate. No instrument rating and no type rating. Clearly, he had no business being at the controls of a business jet.
Part 135 regulations and operation specifications dictate the safety authorizations, limitations and prohibited operations that legitimate Air Charter Operators live by. When an air charter is sold, it must be sold with the understanding that the administrative laws set forth by the United States federal government are followed and the public protected. If you sell an air charter flight, you must provide an aircraft that is airworthy. It must be legal and in a condition that is safe to fly. You must assign a crew that is trained and qualified and you must ensure that the PIC prepares properly for that flight. To not do so puts you right up there with Jesse James and Billy the Kid.
It’s not easy to become a Part 135 operator. It is not easy to comply with the thousands of rules required to ensure safety and legality. It takes commitment in money, time and effort. It takes courage to say “STOP!” when something is not right. But that is not an excuse to cut corners and to cheat the system. When you start down that road you set yourself up to become a desperado, sleeping with one eye open, looking over your shoulder wondering when they’ll catch up with you or worse yet, coming to a bad end.