The world of private flights is one of luxury. Those operating private jet charter businesses brush elbows with the upper echelons of society. Today, most people think buying private flights is out of their price range, but a number of apps and special services have pretty much made it like the new business class. In some cases, it's even more price effective than sitting in first class.
If you have a passion for aviation or are simply enamored with the world of luxury travel, you might want to consider starting a charter flight business. Whether you purchase a single airplane, a fleet of charters, rent out space or simply broker the flight, jumping into the world of professional aviation isn't easy. There are a number of complicated rules and regulations – not to mention that airplanes aren't cheap. If you already have the money to launch an aviation business, it's probably a wise decision to seek out a professional who can help you navigate the murky water and build an air charter business plan. Here's what you can expect, from building an air charter business plan to booking your first flight.
Create an Air Charter Business Plan to Attract Investors
Charter businesses require a huge load of cash to get off the ground. A new jet can cost from $3 million to $90 million with yearly operating costs of $700,000 to $4 million per year. Even a used aircraft can rack up a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you don't need to own one to have a booming charter business. According to The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you only need exclusive use of at least one aircraft for six months to get started. Regardless of whether you lease or purchase an aircraft, you're probably going to need investors unless you're independently wealthy or already own a jet that complies with FAA guidelines.
An air charter business plan can help you find investors by proving your charter business fills a hole in the market and is on a path to profitability, but you'll have to decide exactly which Part 135 operation you're going to run. Don't know what Part 135 is? Well, it's complicated.
Everything You Need To Know About Part 135
Part 135 outlines all the regulations and requirements for an air taxi (i.e. your charter flights). This includes pilots' skill requirements and aircraft maintenance regulations. Charter businesses must have a Part 135 certificate in order to operate, but getting one isn't easy. Most people starting a charter flight business think a commercial ticket and instrumental rating is enough, but it's not. Pilots need a minimum of:
- 1,200 hours of flying time.
- 500 hours flying cross-country.
- 100 hours of flying at night.
- 75 hours of actual or simulated instrument time (50 of which have to be in-flight).
Similarly, each Part 135 aircraft (i.e. the aircrafts used in your charter business) must be approved by the FAA. Every time you add a new aircraft to your fleet or remove a new aircraft, the documents must be completely amended and reapproved. Your Part 135 certificate must be re-evaluated every single year regardless of changes.
Part 135 has a few different certificates you can opt for depending on the type of charter business you're hoping to launch. For example, a "Ten or more" 135 Operator can only operate an aircraft with fewer than 30 passengers and a load of less than 7,500 pounds. On the other hand, a charter business with a Basic Part 135 Operator license can have a maximum of five pilots and no more than five total aircraft of three different aircraft types. All these various guidelines are outlined in the National Business Aviation Association's guide to starting a Part 135 operation.
FAA Approval Is the Live or Die of a Jet Charter Business
It's impossible to launch a charter business without FAA approval, but the process is complicated. The FAA requires operations manuals for anyone starting a charter flight business that has more than one plane. Since the regulations and rules are constantly being upgraded, many hopeful charter owners opt to purchase an already-existing manual from an operator or consultant. FAA inspectors are fierce and there's a very, very strict approval process that may take weeks, months or years to get approved. The manual is just the basics.
Complete The Five-Phase Application Process
No one said flying the rich and famous around was simple. According to the NBAA, those starting a charter flight business must complete a five-phase application process – and by the end of it, it will probably feel a whole lot longer than just five phases.
This process starts with meetings with the FAA Flight Standards District Office, then submitting a formal letter to the FAA that outlines your compliance with all their various rules and regulations. After that, you have to document your actual compliance. Where's your operations manual? Where's your maintenance manual (yup, you need that too if you've got more than 10 seats on your aircraft)? Do you have exclusive use of one aircraft for at least six months? If you don't, you won't even be able to get off the ground. Can your staff properly de-ice runways? You'll also need to include your pilot resumes and total pilot hours. The full list of requirements is outlined on the NBAA's website.
After proving you're totally compliant, those wishing to launch a charter business move onto the demonstration and inspection phase. This requires operators flying the aircraft for 25 hours with inspectors onboard. There's also a Part 135 pilot training program and a full aircraft inspection before you even get off the ground. The final step is certification. If you pass all five steps, you're good to launch your first flight.
What's a Private Charter Broker?
Not all chartering businesses are the same. You might simply want to broker airplanes for a variety of business jet charter services rather than actually take on the cost and responsibility of owning a fleet of private planes. Let's be real: The airplanes are a huge investment and dealing with the FAA is a headache. So, what do charter brokers actually do?
Charter brokers brush elbows with celebs and individuals with high net worth who are looking to purchase a charter jet for their own use. This position is typically in sales with large commissions, bonuses and incentives. There are a lot of perks, but it comes with some hard work. Brokers help clients determine their budget, put together quotes, provide customer service, attend trade shows, conduct market research and handle the business' admin. Sometimes they sell the entire plane; sometimes they're working with a charter company to push on-demand private flights. It's a similar job to car sales, but the salaries can be enormous. Depending on the company, base salaries fall in the $32,000 to $45,000 range with most experienced brokers making more than $50,000 – but that doesn't include uncapped commissions and bonuses. If a private jet costs more than $1 million, just imagine the commission from a single sale.
How to Become a Charter Broker
If you're looking to sell aircraft as a charter broker, you may need an aircraft dealer's license depending on the state. Many brokers choose to work directly with manufacturers and act as the liaison selling airplanes to charter companies, airlines and private individuals. Many pilots and engineers opt for jet sales as a part-time career because they already have the contacts and it's so lucrative. Who you know is everything, but anyone with a passion for luxury travel can give this career a shot.
New Rules and Regulations for Charter Brokers
In 2018, the Department of Transportation published new rules and regulations and revised exemptions for those operating air taxis and commuter planes. This aimed to make the business fairer for both consumers and startup businesses. The regulations require brokers to disclose business relationships with air carriers, but they're allowed to negotiate their own deals with air carriers and resell those charters to customers. There are a number of unfair practices that are now prohibited, so it's best to check out all the rules and regulations on the NBAA's website.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.