Business travelers’ four biggest mistakes and how to avoid them

Mistakes as serious as not properly vetting your aircraft provider or as simple as forgetting your passport can cost you time, money and the convenience that you expect from private aviation. We asked industry insiders to tell us about the biggest and most common errors they’ve seen. Here are the ones they cited:

1. Not researching your service provider. Whether signing up for a fractional program, purchasing a jet card or booking a charter flight, “The number-one mistake someone can make is not being educated about who is operating the aircraft, the qualifications of the crew and the track record of the aircraft and operator,” said Nick Solinger, former chief strategy officer for fractional ownership provider XOjet. “Who owns the airplane, who do the pilots work for and to what degree are they trained and experienced in the aircraft?” Answers to those questions, Solinger said, can tell you a lot about safety, quality and value. So can independent aviation safety auditors such as ARG/US and Wyvern Consulting.

“Getting to know the culture of the companies you’re doing business with and asking them tough questions are essential,” said David Rimmer, executive vice president of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based charter management company ExcelAire. And, said Allyn Caruso, president of Maine Aviation Corp.: “If you just pick up the phone and charter an airplane, you don’t know the reputation of the charter company, how long it has been in business and whether it meets industry standards. Things like insurance coverage, a lot of charter clients don’t even think about.” 

You should also make sure that any company you fly with can provide comprehensive service in case a problem develops far from home. Many people out there with little more than a laptop computer and Internet connection call themselves brokers, noted Bob Seidel, senior vice president and general manager of business jets at aircraft management and charter firm Jet Aviation. “You don’t want to call from Europe or Asia and have someone answer a phone on their nightstand. You want to make sure they have a 24-hour professionally staffed office to help you.”

2. Not reading the fine print. When entering into any aircraft deal—whether for a charter flight, a jet card or fractional or full ownership—you need to fully understand what you’re buying. “It’s important to read the fine print on each and every [contract],” said Ronald Goldstein, president of charter operator Revolution Air.

“Either relying on a capable aviation attorney or taking the time yourself to read all the fine print is crucial,” Solinger agreed. “Things like fuel surcharges are often glossed over in the sales process, and increasingly fuel is a big percentage of what people are spending to fly privately.” He added that other crucial terms may be hidden in fractional contracts, including how long you’re locked into a program; the terms under which the operator will repurchase your share; fees for flying internationally; and surcharges for certain types of trips or catering.

“The fine print will tell you if there are additional charges for de-icing or fuel,” said Toby Batchelder, Elliott Aviation’s sales manager for aircraft charter and management. With fuel prices increasing on a near-daily basis, many companies will honor quoted surcharges for 30 days, but you shouldn’t take that for granted. “Some companies say prices are subject to change, so you may find out that your bill is a couple of thousand dollars more [than the quote] simply because fuel prices have gone up,” said Batchelder.

3. Bringing “surprises” to the airport. Most air charter operators and management companies have stories about passengers who arrived at the airport at the last minute with inappropriate baggage. “They show up with all kinds of things—artwork, travel-trunk-sized stuff, things that they are moving to a vacation home—and a lot of it won’t fit and a lot of it is not legal to carry if you can’t fit it into an approved storage bin,” said Caruso.

Elliott’s Batchelder uses a golf example to explain the carrying limitations of a light jet to his clients. “Light jets are not very good at carrying eight golfers with eight sets of golf clubs and eight overnight bags plus the crew bags,” he tells them. “They are intended for seven or eight people with briefcases.”

Goldstein recalled a time when an auto-company executive showed up for a flight with a large piece of automotive machinery. “These are private jets, not cargo planes, and here’s a gentleman who was about to give a presentation about this state-of-the-art transmission. It would not fit [on the airplane], nor does the owner of a $30 million aircraft want a piece of cargo like a transmission lying in the back.”

Solinger recalled the time another client arrived for a flight with six large dogs and their kennels. “We just said, ‘We think you’re going to need an Airbus for that one.’”

Other customers have arrived at the airport prepared for hunting expeditions, complete with loaded firearms. “There are regulations that we are required to follow, which is sometimes hard to explain to somebody when they are spending this type of money [for a flight],” said Goldstein, who added that if a customer provides advance notice of his intention to bring guns along, proper paperwork and onboard storage can be arranged.

One operator recalled the time a world-famous rock musician invited a tattoo artist onto his chartered Gulfstream GIV and had him practice his trade onboard. The resulting ink stains in the cabin cost the musician a $5,000 cleaning bill.

The simple solution: If you’re planning to bring anything unusual on your flight, call ahead to avoid surprises and find out whether it will create problems. 

4. Buying a jet without doing your homework. Most buyers would have a home thoroughly inspected before purchasing it, yet many people don’t apply this same diligence to a preowned aircraft worth millions of dollars. “We see this all the time: somebody buys a plane they thought was going to cost $1,000 or $1,500 an hour to operate and it’s costing them $3,000 an hour,” said Caruso. “That’s because they didn’t have a proper pre-purchase inspection and they bought an airplane that had $500,000 worth of maintenance coming due.”

Caruso tells of one customer who purchased a clean-looking aircraft that was about to undergo a major service inspection. The owner presented the buyer with a $250,000 quote from the maintenance shop for known needed repairs, and even offered to deduct that amount from the purchase price plus an additional $100,000 to cover possible overage. The buyer agreed and bought the jet. During the inspection, however, the maintenance facility discovered extensive corrosion damage requiring an additional $350,000 of work.

To avoid surprises such as this, advised Caruso, have any aircraft you’re considering for purchase inspected by a reputable facility, preferably one that the current owner doesn’t use. “Every circumstance is a little different, but if you’re taking it to a place that may have had a relationship with the seller, you’ve certainly got to have a representative there to look over their shoulder to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing,” he said.

A buyer’s representative can also make sure the aircraft has all the advertised equipment. “How do you know it has a terrain and collision avoidance system [TCAS] II if the seller says it’s got TCAS? You may be thinking it has TCAS II, but it’s got TCAS I in it. There’s a huge difference in value,” Caruso said.

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~ by LeRoy Young on January 18, 2010.

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