Operational Control: What Is It? Why Does It Matter?

One of the most important and sometimes controversial issues in all of private aviation, and particularly Jet Cards,…

One of the most important and sometimes controversial issues in all of private aviation, and particularly Jet Cards, centers around the FAA and Department of Transportation elements of “Operational Control.” In short, it defines who is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of the airplane and the rules around Operational Control dictate very firmly who can influence a flight in any way.

These rules cover the major issues like aircraft performance and being able to land on certain runways, but they even include the seemingly innocent items like asking the pilots to offer the passengers food or to cool the cabin down prior to the passengers’ arrival.

There are a relatively small number of companies that offer full Operational Control in a Jet Card format; Netjets, Flexjet, Nicholas Air, and XO Jet to name a few, and those companies are able to offer their customers a better service and flight experience than the companies who do not have Operational Control of the aircraft. Those programs, termed “Charter Broker Cards” or “Open Fleet” or even the now-popular “Asset Light” models, rely on other certified Part 135 Charter Operators to perform their flights for them.

The marketing for those brands, namely Magellan Jet, Sentient Jet, et al, claims that the customer service experience matches those of companies with Operational Control. This is only a half-truth at best. Yes, they may have the opinion that their internal customer service agents are great, but the truth is that there is nothing those brands can do to genuinely influence the onboard experience of a passenger. That is an element that is solely reserved for those holding Operational Control.

Shopping for a new Jet Card? Make the “Operational Control” question the very first one on your list. In one simple question, your sales representative can either give a confident answer, or you can watch them talk in circles to explain to you why it doesn’t matter, or how they carefully choose their operators or watch them drag on about their vetting process.

The reality is that there is one standard in the industry that cannot be messed with: Operational Control. Ask any FAA Administrator or NTSB Administrator what the most critical piece of charter flight is and it’s a safe bet that the lion’s share of them will say “Operational Control.”

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