Around 50% of the world´s charter flights are being performed illegally. The combination of consumer ignorance and regulator nonchalance has spawned a flourishing industry at the expense of the law-abiding providers, say leading market experts.
A roundtable meeting at TAG Farnborough airport in the UK this month discussed the problem of illegal or grey chartering. This occurs when flights are offered on privately owned aircraft for financial reward, even though aircraft are not registered under a commercial air operator´s certificate or when aircraft registered outside a market - including in the USA, Bermuda or the Cayman Islands - are offered for charter without having the necessary permits to fly commercially within that region.
"There are serious safety and legal implications if a flight is chartered illegally," says Marwan Khalek, chief executive of business aviation services provider Gama Aviation.
Grey charters can be significantly cheaper than flights offered by holders of aircraft operator´s certificates, "but they are illegal and do not adhere to the same stringent operational safety standards as the regulated provider", he says.
David Macdonald, director of international charter broker Air Partner, believes the trade in illegal charter has shifted from "under the counter" to blatant selling through websites and other prominent advertising mediums.
In 2009 the UK government performed 250 ramp checks at UK airports - 100 more than the previous year - although all the inspections are known in advance, which defeats the object, says Khalek.
For operators such as Gama, such flouting of the charter regulations has put law-abiding companies at a disadvantage. "There seems to be a culture within the industry where you are scrutinised more if you hold a licence and play by the rules than if you don´t," says Khalek. "If nothing is going to be done, let´s make it a free-for-all so we all play by the same rules."
The European Business Aviation Association is poised to launch an educational campaign to raise awareness of the grey charter market and the consequences of this illegal activity. O´Sullivan says: "We must stop rise of illegal charter as it will expose every player involved to serious legal penalties and liabilities."