A flight taken by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for a trip to Florida to visit her elderly father may have been an illegal charter, according to media reports
According to the Associated Press, the aircraft was a 2016 Gulfstream G280 registered as N62AE under Part 91. That means the owner and operator can not hire it out in exchange for compensation.
The AP reports “The cost (of the flight) was $27,521, with Whitmer personally paying $855 of that amount, according to the Michigan Transition 2019 website, which lists donations and expenses.”
Rules to operate under Part 135, which allows for chartering, are more rigorous. Pilots are held to higher standards, including training as well as duty time limits. There are also more stringent requirements regarding maintenance, and insurance costs are higher.
A search of the National Air Transport Association database of aircraft on Part 135 certificates did not turn up any results for the super-midsize jet Whitmer is said to have traveled on.
Last fall, NATA vice president Ryan Waguespack said, “We’ve seen a dramatic uptick in reports (to our illegal charter hotline), very detailed information…and I don’t even think the full surge is in motion.”
FAA warns about illegal charters
In December 2019, the FAA issued a written warning regarding illegal charters.
The memo read in part, “Illegal air charter operations pose a serious safety hazard to the traveling public, and the FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators.”
It continued, “Air charter operations – also known as commuter and on-demand operations – require a higher level of FAA pilot training and certification, aircraft maintenance procedures, and operational safety rules, than private pilots who may take family or friends for an airplane ride.”
It pointed out, “FAA inspectors perform more frequent periodic checks on air charter companies’ pilots, crewmembers and aircraft than they do on private pilot operations…Illegal air charter operations pose a serious safety hazard to the traveling public, and the FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators.”
While Whitmer wouldn’t be the target of any enforcement actions, the operator of the aircraft could be subject to fines. Last year, the FAA proposed a $5.8 million fine alleging hundreds of illegal charters by an Atlanta company. In January, the FAA proposed a $1 million fine against a Massachusett’s operator.
Trade groups fight illegal charters
In December, several industry trade groups joined together to form the Air Charter Safety Alliance. The group said, “While the overwhelming majority of on-demand charter flights comply with national and international safety standards, there have been instances of unauthorized aircraft operators actively avoiding aviation authority oversight, placing at risk the safety of unwitting passengers and hurting the economic health of approved charter operators.”
If you own an aircraft, read, “You might be running an illegal charter (and not know it).“