If you’re in the zone to start a Part 135 air charter service in your market, you’re in a tough place these days.
The FAA has been significantly impacted by funding cuts, especially with regard to staffing, and has no choice but to put your startup air charter application at the back of the line, as the little staff that’s left focuses on their core responsibilities of safety, compliance, and testing. Best case scenario in this environment is 2+ years to get your air charter application in process.
The other route is to buy a Part 135 air charter certificate, but that’s wading into very uncomfortable terrain for the FAA.
I think it’s pretty clear why: The 135 certificate award process is based on the applicant – his/her ability and experience in this realm of commercial aviation – so buying a certificate is pretty much akin to applying for a new certificate from a process and qualification standpoint.
Further, the only way a 135 certificate purchase will have any traction with the FAA is if it’s a full asset purchase – full acquisition of all equipment, crew, staff, and systems – which puts you in a very complex and costly position towards starting your air charter service. And even if the cost is not a problem for you, the complexity of this transaction has the same protracted timeline of applying for a new air charter certificate.
So, what’s the strategy if you want to start an air charter service within a few months? A “certificate affiliation” program.
The core requirement of any air charter operation is operational control and regulatory compliance of all associated aircraft and aircrew, with service location and branding left to the discretion of the 135 certificate owner.
In other words, the FAA wants to know that the 135 charter operator has full control over the means and delivery of the air charter service, but is relatively open to how and where this service is promoted.
Thus, if you are in a market where you think air charter will do well, the strategy is to find a 135 charter operator in the same region (but outside your market) that’s already positioned with the FAA to add aircraft and aircrew to its 135 certificate without additional application and review, and propose an “affiliation” arrangement that emphasizes the certificate owner’s operational control over your aircraft and aircrew, but gives you branding and positioning rights to your market.
You can obtain a geographically-targeted list of 135 air charter operators from any aviation data company (or the FAA’s website for raw data), and, with a professional presentation that introduces you, your market and your positioning, pitch this certificate affiliation opportunity to all the charter operators that are close enough to your market to manage the service, but not compete.
The rest of the process towards establishing your charter service is traditional aviation startup logistics – aircraft acquisition, staff recruitment, service agreement, financial modeling, brand positioning, customer conversion and growth plan. In other words, once you find the charter operator to fly your customer, you create the strategy to serve your customer.