Black Charter: Friends Helping Friends or a Disaster Waiting?


While the term “black charter,” referring to illegal airplane charter, makes aircraft operators sound like shady villains, the term actually refers to a very common occurrence in the private jet world. Specifically, if you have access to a private jet through an owner you know and you occasionally fly using that jet — including the crew the owner uses. You likely feel you’re getting a great deal; the arrangement offsets the cost of jet ownership for the private owner and it’s likely a lucrative option for you as well.


So, what’s wrong with friends helping friends? This arrangement is illegal for one simple reason: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires public charters to have an Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC) and those operators are regulated under part 135 of the FAA regulations. Essentially, you’re hitching a ride from an acquaintance that is not a commercially licensed pilot, and that is an illegal move — for you, for the pilot, and for the jet owner.

Commercial pilots holding AOC certification are required to undergo extensive training every six months and subject themselves to regular flight reviews from senior pilots. The aircraft also undergoes routine maintenance and safety inspections by trained pros, also held to high standards.

Still, black charters are very common. In fact, some estimates by industry professionals indicate that up to 50% of all jet charters worldwide are illegal. The chances of getting caught borrowing or loaning an aircraft are not large — the FAA and DOT have their hands full — and as long as the flight proceeds without incident, there’s little chance of enforcement action.

The consequences of being caught, however, are huge, and many jet owners either don’t know about the possible penalties or they turn a blind eye to Part 135 regulations:

  • Letting someone borrow a jet you own means putting your crew’s licenses on the line — even if the crew doesn’t know the flight is illegal (and they usually don’t).
  • Crewmembers could have their license — their livelihood — suspended or revoked and could be assessed significant fines. As the owner of the aircraft, you could also be subjected to serious FAA fines. Whatever insurance you carry on the jet involved in a black charter could be voided if an accident occurs while it is illegally carrying a passenger.
  • If you are the illegal passenger on a black charter, your only recourse in the event of an accident is to sue the owner, your friend, for your losses.

One further note — as an aircraft owner, you may escape the notice of the FAA and your insurance company, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Usually these arrangements catch the eye of the IRS, an entity that is often much better at enforcement than the FAA. If an audit reveals you allowed the use of your aircraft and crew and received money for those flights, the IRS may deem that you owe Federal excise taxes that operators are required to collect and pay for every charter flight.

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