Much like a travel agent, an air charter broker matches your travel needs to the best available private jet operator at the best price. Whether it's a business trip for your senior staff or the need to fly a large group to an event, brokers have access to the fleets of multiple air charter operators. Many brokers also extend their services to ground and in-flight amenities. Do you need Wi-Fi? Would you like a five-course meal onboard or will a light snack do? How about ground transportation and a hotel room? Brokers can take care of all the details.
Why Use an Air Charter Broker?
You can book your own flight with an air charter operator—the company responsible for providing the aircraft and crew—but brokers offer services that can save you time and money. Good brokers will have:
- Access to a larger fleet of aircraft, allowing you to fly in the most efficient manner and in a plane that best meets your schedule.
- Relationships with multiple carriers in multiple locations (national and international) to provide seamless service wherever you are going.
- Knowledge of the air travel industry and access to information that will quickly identify options when weather or last-minute schedule changes require a different airport or aircraft.
- Access to safety information on pilots and aircraft.
- Knowledge of FAA operational regulations and restrictions, such as flight duty and rest requirements, which adds a layer of oversight so you have assurance that the charter operator is following protocols.
- Knowledge about necessary paperwork. Brokers will review the charter operator’s operating certificate, safety record and take care of your insurance needs.
How to Choose an Air Charter Broker
Air charter brokers are not formally licensed or regulated, although your state may have seller-of-travel laws that brokers must comply with. Mike Nichols, Vice President of Operation, Education and Economics with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), notes that anyone can set up a website and be a broker so it's important to ask questions before you sign a contract. "It's fair to say that there are more than 1,000 brokers in the US but there are only a handful of folks who are truly knowledgeable," he says. "Ask if the broker has knowledge of business aviation - the rules, safety considerations - before you hire. Because if a broker doesn't have an understanding of the industry, it could be disastrous."
Nichols qualifies that the disaster would be to your bank account, rather than your health and wellbeing. After all, the charter operator has to meet multiple government safety regulations to be in business. But a broker who is unfamiliar with aircraft specifications and flight plans could book you on a larger plane or longer route than is necessary, which could result in a much higher invoice.
Many brokers, Nichols notes, have already screened charter operators and can quickly get paperwork in order if you have to travel on short notice. Before you hire a broker, find out who he or she works for. Brokers typically choose one of the three business models listed below. In all cases, brokers should be clear about who they represent.
- A broker representing the customer is compensated by obtaining a discounted price from the charter operator and charging the customer a retail price. Your contract is with the broker.
- A broker acting as an independent sales agent works for one or more charter operators and is typically paid a sales commission by the operator.
- A broker acting as an independent middleman finds and screens appropriate aircraft and crew and makes recommendations to the customer. The customer pays the broker a fee and then contracts with the charter operator directly.
Because brokers are not required to be licensed, there is no formal list of qualified brokers to help you find one. However, many do belong to professional organizations, such as the NBAA, The Air Charter Association and Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA), all of which act to elevate professional standards. Additionally, knowledgeable brokers will review a charter operator's safety audits through one or more of the following organizations and may be listed on their website:
- Wyvern conducts on-site safety audits of a charter company's operations, aircraft, maintenance and crew. Wyvern Authorized Brokers have direct access to the Pilot and Aircraft Safety Survey (PASS) report for the charter company selected for your flight and can provide you with a (PASS) certificate.
- ARG/US International performs on-site safety audits. Brokers who subscribe have access to the Charter Evaluation and Qualification (CHEQ) reports, which reviews the safety records of US-based charter operators. The TripCHEQ report allows the broker to validate aircraft and crew qualifications for a scheduled flight.
- The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) certification is administered by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC). It's audit includes business management as well as safety reviews.
- The Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) developed the Industry Audit Standard (IAS) to independently review an operator’s adherence to safety and security regulations, and the implementation of its safety management system.
The best way to discover if a broker is knowledgeable and has the resources to serve your travel needs is to interview them and ask questions. We've published a list of suggested questions to ask a private air charter service which you can use with brokers and operators. Part 295 of the Department of Transportation (DoT) regulations require brokers to make it clear to the consumer that they are middlemen in the business transaction of booking the private aircraft. They must disclose both who owns the aircraft being used, and which company operates it. And also disclose liability insurance, any existing business relationship between the broker and the operator, and all the fees.
The NBAA has also published a Best Practices for Air Charter Brokering. This helpful document provides insight into the business practices of air charter brokers.