The Operational Control Issue

Operational control of the aircraft for FAR Part 135 charter operators has been a hot topic in recent years. Michael Grossman, a long-time operator and industry activist, shares his thoughts on the issue.

Grossman: It’s for the operators who have not been doing it right. For example, if you have a lease, the big thing is operational control — that the owner of the aircraft cannot have any kind of say-so or operational control of the charter operator. So, basically, it gives you 60 days to redo the leases, to reflect that the operational control issue is addressed.

AB: Is it the face of the company to the public that’s the key issue here?

Grossman: The one thing that I’ve heard over the past several months is that they want to see charter operaters do business somewhat like the airlines do it. Get on an airline today and fly on one of the regional partners, you have Continental Express operated by Express Jet. Basically, the DOT and FAA are saying the same thing here. If ABC Brokering Company is chartering with Castle Aviation today, what they want is that when those people get aboard my Castle Aviation airplane that they know it’s a Castle Aviation airplane. It’s not an ABC Brokering airplane. That’s what happened at Teterboro. Those people were on an airplane and didn’t even know who the operator was.

AB: It almost sounds too simple.

Grossman: I went to an operational control seminar put on by NATA in Newark just to go listen and see what everybody had to say. The bottom line is, yeah, it’s pretty simple. The FAA wants to make sure that the operator has operational control, even if the plane that they are operating on the charter that day is owned by another company and has that company’s pilots on. There has to be an agreement in place, now, that those pilots understand that when they’re flying a charter they answer to the operator.

There has to be an agency agreement which basically spells out, when you’re flying a charter this is who you answer to and the rules you are abiding by. FAA has bought off on that. During this time, the owner of the airplane can’t tell the operator what to do.

Under FAA regulations, the owner is the person in operational control only when he’s on board the aircraft. You can make an agreement that says the operator has operational control at all times – even if the owner is on board.

The only thing that cannot transfer is maintenance. Once an airplane is on a charter certificate, it has to be maintained to Part 135 standards – all the time. That is one thing that the operator is in control of all the time and has to know.

What they’re saying is, you have a lease agreement on the airplane and then you have a management agreement. All the details need to be spelled out in the management agreement.

AB: Regarding your comment that part of the problem has been FAA enforcement, what exactly do you mean?

Grossman: FAA’s problem was they weren’t enforcing the rules. The rules have been there. We’re not changing any regulation here.

The thing is, it shouldn’t be going on. I’ve never been one to hide information from customers; I don’t feel it’s the right way to do business. Yet, some brokers are afraid of losing business; maybe they don’t have the relationship with their customers like they should.

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