I was sitting among 300 of our peers when I was brought to a level of frustration that I have not experienced in recent years. As we sat and listened in the second session at the 2007 NATA Charter Summit, the panel consisting of FAA legal representatives as well as industry attorneys, the discussion point was “Scheduled Operation or On-Demand Operation.” The picture became so clear to me, and unfortunately it was a rerun from days gone by. Snap judgment, knee-jerk reaction, going off half cocked, whatever you want to call it, it’s what happens when a zealous FAA employee, who knows the regulations inside and out but has no applicative experience to help them to apply it, starts interpreting the regulations.
We had just finished listening to FAA’s top dogs, Nick Sabatini, Jim Ballough, and Hooper Harris, all of which I have a great deal of respect for, along with the leadership of the National Air Transportation Association, explain that by working cooperatively (NATA/industry with the FAA), a plan was devised to properly handle the operational control issue that the FAA developed some concern for almost two years ago.
A look back
Over the years, let’s say since 1958, when the old Civil Aviation Regulations were converted/superseded by the current Federal Aviation Regulations structure, things have changed. A lot more has changed in the real world that we live in compared to the regulations that help to govern our society, in this case, our industry.
Back in 1958 a clear distinction was established between scheduled air carriers and on-demand charter operations. The general purpose of scheduled air carrier services was to move people within an organized and structured air carrier system. Scheduled air carrier service was/is most like a modern metropolitan busing system. If a person needs to go from point A to point B they enter into that system by purchasing a ticket and receiving a boarding pass; and if every thing goes as planned they get to their destination fairly efficiently.
The on-demand charter segment of our industry however has an entirely different purpose. Those who utilize on-demand charter need to move from point A to point B quickly, direct, and often back the same day, and sometimes with the utmost discretion. The ability to travel using air charter carries a lot of weight with certain types of passengers (i.e. corporate America, professional entertainers, sports figures, and high-level political figures). Enough so that such passengers are willing to pay a significant premium for the privilege. Sometimes as much as 20 times the cost of a ticket to enter into the “scheduled” air carrier network of transportation.
Those of us who choose the less expensive scheduled air carrier service, are moved through the security check point along with all of the other “cattle,” are required to depart and arrive at a specific time scheduled by the air carrier months out, and most times have to stop to change planes somewhere in the middle of their journey.
Impact of today’s technology
It’s impossible not to have noticed that the technology boom has been on a near vertical trajectory for several years now and is constantly changing how our world lives, including how we do business. Arguably, the single largest influence of the technology boom we are experiencing is the portability of information. The availability of information via the Internet and email, the ease of communication with others via cellular telephone, the clarity of pictures from across the world we see on the new high-definition televisions that almost appear better than what the naked eye could see in person.
These are just a few examples of technology revolutionizing communication.
An attack on charter
How does all of this apply to the situation at hand? Well, while sitting there among my colleagues at the NATA Air Charter Summit this summer in Virginia, I witnessed what I believe to be a significant FAA blunder. Joseph Conte, manager of the Operations Law Branch in the FAA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, delivered an interpretation of “scheduled flight” that was derived by applying 14 CFR Part 119.3 Definitions: