Not All Private Jet Operators Are Created Equal
With hundreds of private jet operators in the US and even more worldwide, the constant and ever-changing field of charter aviation, the task of picking an aircraft and its operator can be quite daunting.
Luckily there are a few factors that help level the playing field and assist the consumer in finding the best aircraft for their flight.
The question becomes, who can I trust? Let’s face it, we all have been in the back of a car at some time or another, wondering if the driver really knows where he is going, or when the last time the brakes were done.
We should wonder the same thing, well in advance before we step into an aircraft! For those who fly often, there are certain buzz words that may be floating around your head like Argus or Wyvern, but what do they mean, how can you make sense of them, and how do you know they can be trusted?
In this article, I will go over both of the two main safety audit programs in the US, and one more that is quickly gaining ground, in the US and around the world.
As with many aspects of business, just because you have a seal of approval from someone doesn’t mean you are truly up to standards.
All three of the audit programs I am going to write on in this article are thorough and work very hard to provide the very top standards in the industry.
No program in any business will be perfect, please do not take any of this article to be a criticism of the programs themselves, just a guide to how best to use them.
Let’s go in alphabetical order, we will start with Argus.
Aviation Research Group United States (ARGUS)
The Aviation Research Group United States has two levels that it uses to classify operators, Gold, and Platinum.
Argus looks at each operator’s maintenance records, and audits how often the aircraft are inspected, is the program up to FAA standards? Do they go above and beyond? They also track the flight hours, pilot training and medical records for the pilots employed by the company.
An ARGUS rated operator must keep all of these records up to date with ARGUS to ensure that they will be cleared on each flight.
Prior to a flight, the operator is able to run a TripCheq, which is a trademarked report from Argus that provides the individual or broker with the ability to check their individual trip to ensure that the crew meets the standards, the aircraft meets the standards, and that the trip meets the standards.
This last point is important, as the FAA does not allow every operator to fly to all locations around the world.
Many light jet operators may not have the approval to fly to Mexico, or to certain areas of the Caribbean.
As you can imagine Gold is the lower level for an operator and Platinum is the upper level.
Wyvern is the other audit program that many US operators (and a few Europeans) use to show their compliance with industry standards.
While the audit process and reports are very similar to ARGUS, there are a few differences.
I believe the foremost difference is the cost of the program. For only a fraction of an ARGUS audit, a company can become Wyvern approved.
What this means is that their records are on file with Wyvern, and you can run a Pass Report, similar to the TripCheq from ARGUS, but without the level of constant review.
Wyvern registered is essentially an entry-level for an operator, and many operators get this first as they are starting to build their fleet and reputation.
It doesn’t mean the op is subpar, just beginning in the game.
From there they can become Pass Ready, which means they are somewhat guaranteed to Pass on all of their records, and then Wyvern Wingman, which is the same as a Platinum status from ARGUS.
As you can see, both companies work hard to provide a stringent audit that looks at all aspects of safety in an operator, both present and past, yes they look at past accident history as well.
Let’s face it though, this is a business, and the goal in any business should be to provide a valuable service, and make money doing it.
Companies that have been established for a long time can usually more easily afford to get a Platinum rating, and a Wyvern Wingman rating and they will put them on every piece of marketing, as they should.
But an equally or even better operator from the aspect of safety and customer service may not yet be able to afford the monthly Argus payment, and therefore only register with Wyvern.
It does not mean they aren’t up to the same standards, only that they are not at that level on the playing field yet.
Likewise, an Argus Gold or Platinum operator may obtain their rating, and yet still cut corners here and there to cut costs, and slip by the audit process.
I have personally witnessed a large jet that was operated by a major international operator, which was not properly maintained.
The aircraft owner (who was not aware of the issue) moved the aircraft to a new management company/operator, and in the process of going through the aircraft to put it on their own certificate, the new, and lesser rated company, found that the aircraft was poorly maintained, and spent 4 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, fixing the mistakes of the other operator.
Is the lesser rated operator better or worse than the original operator? I think that’s a no brainer.
International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO)
The third audit program I would like to bring up is a newer one that is far more stringent and should be recognized as a true badge of honor by any operator that carries it.
IS-BAO stands for International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations and was introduced by IBAC, the International Business Aviation Council.
This group saw a need for a new type of standard, one that covered an international community and looked beyond a paid for audit.
While obtaining an IS-BAO certificate does require money, it is not a monthly payment to a business.
While international operators are able to get Wyvern, and I believe, ARGUS ratings, these two companies audit per FAA standards.
However, IS-BAO audits by ICAO standards, which are the worldwide standard for aviation, and all civil aviation authorities have input and interaction with this group.
My bottom line is that while an audit from one of the three major groups should be required by you as a consumer; it is not the end-all and be-all of aviation safety.
Look for brokerages that put safety first and operators that have multiple ratings, make sure you get a check for their standards as well.
If an operator comes in well under cost, weigh this carefully. Is the aircraft old, is the operator small?
There may be a good reason why they do not have an audit certificate, but just as likely, they may have a pilot who does not have the required hours or an accident in their past history.
I would suggest that you utilize a professional to help you find an aircraft for your flights, and that you diligently hold them accountable to review the safety status of that operator.
Over time as consumers are more educated, and demand higher standards, more operators will see that they must hold themselves to the standards that they represent as an industry. Let’s keep the skies safe!
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