Last month, The Asian Business Aviation Association announced the launch of its illegal charter reporting system (ICRS), Asia’s first initiative to directly address and combat the serious threats to air charter and the public that are often difficult to identify due to the use of deceptive and convoluted agreements.
Business Airport International spoke to Anthony Lam, director of external affairs at the Asian Business Aviation Association to find out more about the new system.
Why has AsBAA launched the illegal charter reporting system now? Has there been a noticeable increase in illegal charter recently?
The Asian business aviation industry, by and large, has been aware of illegal charter activities for quite some time. Over the last two years, and especially due to Covid-19, the industry has also seen an uptick in illegal charters, including with medevac and repatriation flights. Part of the challenge has always been that until relatively recently, AsBAA was run by volunteers in the industry – many of whom work for or represent business aircraft operators themselves. That presented unique challenges with regards to combating illegal charters. This year is the first full year where AsBAA had an executive team that enabled tackling more of these critical, sensitive issues directly and independently.
In 2020, AsBAA became a signatory to the Air Charter Safety Alliance, a joint global initiative to address a growing concern among members and industry. In the same year, AsBAA and global law firm HFW jointly released the survey results on illegal charter in Asia. The survey results clearly indicated that illegal charters are causing significant damage to the industry. More than 70% of respondents stated that their business was negatively impacted by illegal charter operations, and 90% of the respondents believed their local regulators are not doing enough to address the issue.
As the representative body for business aviation in Asia, AsBAA’s primary mission is to safeguard and promote the long-term viability of the industry. Compared with other sister organizations around the world, AsBAA is a relatively young organization as business aviation itself is only in its “teenage” years in Asia. As illegal charters continue to negatively affect the industry, sooner or later, a reporting system would be needed to combat the systemic issue. By launching our ICRS now rather than later, AsBAA is prepared and equipped as early as possible with the appropriate tools in its arsenal to combat illegal charters in the long term.
Can you explain how the illegal charter reporting system works?
All submissions are voluntary, and every submission has the option to remain anonymous. The submission form asks for information such as tail numbers (registration), locations, names of airports and FBOs, and suspected individuals and/or organizations involved. Submissions are also encouraged to include additional documentation and supporting evidence. Collected submissions are reviewed by AsBAA’s illegal charter task force, compiled, examined for completion and coherence, assigned unique case numbers for each complete submission, formatted appropriately, and then sent directly to relevant civil aviation authorities and/or relevant regulatory bodies for potential enforcement action. The task force will also proactively follow-up with the relevant authorities regarding each case.
Why is it important to report suspect illegal charter operations?
To put it simply, illegal charters jeopardize the safety of passengers and wreak havoc on the bottom-line of legitimate operators who comply with regulations and have incurred significant expenses to do so. Civil aviation authorities require operators who engage in revenue-generating flights, such as charters, to possess an AOC or Part 135 certificate. These certificated operators are required by regulators to meet higher standards of operational safety, such as training requirements for pilots and stricter maintenance standards. Illegal charter operators are not required to meet these standards and will often have far less safety oversight. If and when an accident occurs in an illegal charter (and they do), insurance coverage will also likely be invalidated, and this in turn often leads to unjust hikes of insurance premiums for legitimate operators across the region. These are just a few of the many reasons AsBAA and its industry partners are committed to combating illegal charter in the region.
Have you had many reports so far?
Rather than focusing on the quantity of reports, the task force focuses on the quality of reports – ones that are actionable. AsBAA has received actionable reports and will continue to keep the hotline open.
What does AsBAA’s illegal charter task force hope to achieve in the next year?
Over the next year, aside from submitting suspected reports of illegal charter to authorities, AsBAA’s illegal charter task force hopes to help educate government and industry stakeholders about the dangers and risks of illegal charter through a series of informative webinars in 2022.
What are your top tips to avoid illegal charter for customers/aircraft owners/operators?
For customers, we recommend that they verify the operator’s legitimacy – ask for copies of the air carrier certificate and for validation that your selected aircraft is authorized for charter use. If an operator is resistant to providing verification, you would be wise to consider another charter operator. When leasing an aircraft, recognize that you are assuming responsibility for all aspects of the flight. If the lessor is retaining responsibility, it may be an illegal charter. Ultimately the adage holds true, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For owners, ensure you fully understand the requirements for legitimate leases (see, for example, advisory circular AC 91-37B for US-registered aircraft). If you consider placing your aircraft in a “leasing pool” or “leasing program,” conduct an independent exam of the system to ensure you are not engaging in a disguised illegal charter system.
For operators, if you suspect illegal charter operation, please report it to the AsBAA Illegal Charter Reporting System. Educate your aircraft owners and customers on the risks posed by illegal charter schemes.
For more information, please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.