Aviation Regulations

Private Jet Travel Offers More Than Privacy

It’s no secret that 21st century commercial air travel has become a real headache. The crowds are nerve-wracking, the security lines never-ending and the service is less than stellar. Not to mention the frequent flight delays.

In recent months, due to TSA staffing cuts, people  waiting up to three hours in security check-in line are barely making it to the jetway in time for their flights. After fighting the traffic, finding parking and other hassles just to get to a congested airport, missing your flight is the final straw for most travelers, who are turning to private jet travel as a sensible alternative to flying commercial.

Private jet charter improves your entire travel experience in numerous ways, not the least of which is cutting down on stress and aggravation – but perhaps the most important benefit is the time you save.

Less Time on the Ground

TSA security

Avoid long TSA security lines

Flying private charter saves you hours of not having to wait in the TSA’s long check-in queue:

  • You can you arrive at the airport just minutes, not hours, before departure.
  • Security checks are streamlined for international travel, and not required for domestic flights.
  • Many times, you can drive right onto the tarmac and be steps away from your private jet.
  • When you land, your bags can be brought right to your car, so there’s more time saved by not having to wait at the baggage carousel.
  • AND, you don’t have take off your shoes, belt, coins or jewelry.

Charter flights also save you time travelling to and from major airports, which are usually located in congested metropolises. Since charter jets do not need the long runways that commercial jets do, they can fly in and out of regional and feeder airports in less congested areas. A private jet can access some 5,000 civil airports across the U.S., which most likely will be much closer to your ultimate destination than the nearest commercial air terminal.

Less Time in the Air

Private charter flights do not operate from hubs like commercial airlines, so your travel is not impacted by layovers and/or airline timetables. There is no airline schedule to deal with, just your schedule.

Commercial airliners are also subject to weather delays that impact their entire air system. With a private jet, you have the flexibility to takeoff and land as soon as the weather breaks.

Many of today’s private jets are designed to fly higher and faster than commercial jets, so they can get you to your destination faster, saving you time in flight.

Flying private certainly offers a more luxurious, peaceful and private travel experience, but the real benefit is saving you time, which ultimately means saving you money.

UberChopper and the coming age of helicopter ride sharing.

We live in a gee-whiz time when catching a ride is as easy as opening a cell phone app. Uber may not be as futuristic as “Beam me up, Scotty,” but it certainly has caused turbulence with the taxi industry. Now, Uber wants to transform how we get around in the air. Enter UberChopper, an exciting new way to request a helicopter taxi that is creating great interest and great concern at the same time.

Compared to air travel by jet, riding in a helicopter to get from point A to point B is not something the average American is used to doing. Truthfully, it probably won’t be commonplace for some time to come because vertical flight is far more expensive per hour than fixed-winged flight. Still, in certain American cities like Los Angeles and New York your chances of hopping a chopper to get to a weekend hideaway or to beat the traffic to the airport are much higher than elsewhere.

Uber has been experimenting with providing shared helicopter rides for a few years now. In 2013, it offered exclusive helicopter rides to New Yorkers wishing to get to their Hampton, Long Island retreats without having to battle the mind-numbing traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Uber again offered helicopter service during the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. They also partnered with helicopter flying services to ferry people at the Cannes Film Festival, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and most recently at the Sundance Film Festival. Uber’s efforts have been met with both resistance, as well as with success.

Not the first, but potentially the biggest.

The idea of using a helicopter as a taxi is not a new one. In the early 1950s, New York Airways was created to ferry people to various New York Airports. It operated through the late 70s, picking up passengers from the top of what was then called the Pan Am Building and flying them to various New York airports. The service was suspended in New York after a serious fatal accident in 1979.

More recently, the helicopter has become a jet setter’s taxi. In Los Angeles, many studio executives use helicopters to transport themselves from Malibu to studios in L.A. In Texas the helicopter is the Oil Executive’s mode of transportation for getting to drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

New York of late has given rise to a new helicopter phenomenon: the helicopter ride share. In the past two years, three companies have come into existence specializing in helicoptering groups of people from downtown New York to the Hamptons or to New York Area airports. They are Blade, Gotham Air and Uber. All of these services are set up for ride-shares for four to six passengers. Just like a shared taxi ride in Manhattan, the cost of the ride is divided by the passengers, thus bringing a flight that could cost upwards of $2000 down to mere hundreds per passenger.

Please Note: Unlike on-demand flights for fixed wing aircraft owners, the FAA has not ordered on-demand helicopter companies to cease and desist. The reason is that booking agents, like Uber, connect customers with helicopter charter companies that employ commercial-rated pilots. The problem with the fixed wing services was that they were connecting passengers with non-commercial-rated private pilots, which the FAA deems a safety problem.

Why Uber Could Become The Biggest Player.

UberChopper may never become as ubiquitous as street Uber, but for those living in the fast lane it might become as convenient.

Uber not only has a national presence but is gaining international recognition as well. Recently it partnered with aviation giant Airbus, to further expand on-demand helicopter services. That partner also known as the European Aerospace Consortium happens to make, among other things, helicopters.

The partnership between software app and aviation hardware was recently tested at the Sundance Film Festival. Airbus provided its H125 and H139 helicopters and Uber provided the helicopter pilots together with an affluent consumer base wishing to cut time and complication out of travelling to and from the Sundance festival.

Why would Airbus consider such an arrangement? Current economics. With oil prices plunging, oil and gas companies, which have been the mainstay helicopter client, have cut back on new helicopter orders. Hence, Airbus is looking to grow their market by looking for new ways their helicopters are used, and by whom.

How did the Airbus/Uber partnership fair at Sundance?

For the cost of $200 per person during the day, and $300 a person at night, a Sundance attendee could take a fifteen minute flight to the Festival beating the crowds and the traffic. For many it was worth the money to share a helicopter ride with several other Festival goers.

There was, however, a snag. People in the quiet countryside around the Festival began to complain about the noise. The Sheriff of Summit County ordered a halt to the flights claiming that the landing zone was illegal and that both Uber (and competing helicopter service Blade) needed permits.

A District Judge ruled those who sued the helicopter services did not have enough evidence that county zoning rules were being violated, or that permits were required. The solution was an alternate landing site agreeable to both UberChopper and local residents, and as they say, the show went on.

One last note about the viability of on-demand helicopter services.

Despite the compromises that were struck at Sundance, helicopter on-demand chopper services still face some challenges from localities, like Summit County. You may recall last year the townspeople of East Hampton and South Hampton on Long Island, sought to put a curfew on helicopter landings due to noise pollution issues. Residents along the West Side of Manhattan have been seeking to curb helicopter flights up and down the Hudson corridor for years now, claiming that noise is so constant, there is little peace 24/7.

Festivals like Sundance encourage on-demand helicopter service for a limited time. Operations like Blade and Gotham Air and now Uber in Manhattan represent a more permanent service. The battle lines between folks on the ground and folks who want ride share in the air, have not and will not, go away. Not soon at any rate. As long as Uber has an app and someone has an available helicopter /pilot, it looks like on-demand chopper service is here to stay.

General Aviation Dodges a Bullet

There is a growing push among airlines, labor unions and other aviation stakeholders to dramatically reshape how the nation’s airspace is controlled and who controls it.

Fortunately, the Senate has again deemed that the U.S. is not yet ready for the privatization of our airspace. In a move this week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has passed a bill that reauthorizes the FAA without privatization and user fees, but only for the short-term through the end of Fiscal Year 2017, so the immediate threat has been stopped but the issue is not dead.  The push to privatize the FAA and add user fees to the funding mix will likely reemerge – and each time it does, there seems to be more support behind it.

Support for ATC privatization is universal among airlines, except for Delta Airlines. “There is simply no compelling reason to change such a critical system that works so very well,” Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson wrote in testimony to the House Transportation Committee last month. “Indeed, this bill feels like an experiment. Our nation’s air traffic control system is too important—to public safety, economic growth and national security—and working too well for such an experiment to be prudent.”

The main criticism of the FAA is that its lethargic bureaucracy has been slow to modernize the U.S. airspace by implementing the new air traffic control system (NextGEN) which Congress authorized back in 2003. This criticism is valid, but clearly can be linked to inconsistent funding of the FAA from a dysfunctional Congress, which has resorted to short-term federal funding for the FAA 23 times in the past several years. Putting that issue aside, the FAA’s primary responsibility is to oversee the world’s largest, busiest and most congested airspace. In this regard, the FAA has done a great job statistically as U.S. aviation is the safest in the world.

Despite this fact, Senator Bill Schuster (R-PA.), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is drafting legislation which would turn over control of the nation’s airspace to a chartered, non-profit monopoly that would implement user fees to fund its operation and float bonds to build a new air traffic infrastructure and modernize the system. Schuster’s plan is modeled after Nav Canada, a non-governmental entity that handles less than one-tenth the air traffic volume in the U.S.

What’s really at stake here?

As the nation’s national debt continues to grow to perilous levels, Congress is looking for ways to cut budgets, reduce deficit spending and limit government oversight as much as possible. In the case of the FAA, this is shortsighted and perhaps even dangerous. Proponents of ATC privatization want the FAA to regulate safety, but not oversee or manage the air traffic control system, its facilities or personnel – as if safety and air traffic control were somehow separate.

The proposal calls for the creation of a quasi-private/public entity. If you aren’t as skeptical about government-created, non-profit corporations as we are, you should be. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, The Port Authority of New York and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority are just a few dismal examples.

Historically, these entities become bloated, wasteful and politically corrupt. Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s sub-prime lending policies contributed to the mortgage collapse in 2007/08. Moreover, the ever-escalating subway fares and bridge tolls in New York City over the past decade will tell you exactly what a non-profit overseer can do to your wallet.

Bottom line? A FAA dependent upon “user fees” for revenue will add more cost to flying and will be ineffective in generating additional revenue, because any new revenue will be swallowed up by a completely new bureaucracy that would be created to charge, collect, distribute and enforce fees. These additional people won’t be air traffic controllers, but instead toll takers.

What is it really all about? Money, Principle, Safety?

132 million flights are handled by U.S. controllers annually. The U.S. also has 80% of the busiest airports in the world along with the best safety record. As we said earlier, the FAA is doing a good job.

The public seems to agree. Recently the Global Strategy Group polled 801 registered voters across the U.S.to gauge public sentiment about privatizing the air traffic system. Nearly 2 out of 3 do not want privatization because they view the U.S. air traffic system as working well. Even among voters who usually favor privatization of government functions, there is a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” sentiment when it comes to our current air traffic system.

Putting the safety issue aside, some privatization advocates argue that air traffic control shouldn’t be in the hands of a regulatory agency such as the FAA, especially one so perniciously micromanaged by Congress. They see air traffic as purely operational and not requiring government oversight. They argue that air traffic is a high-tech service which should be run like a business (we all know how much business puts safety above profits!).

More things to ponder.

Because we have been unabashed about our skepticism of privatization from the outset of this article, we would like to share some concerns that we and other like-minded aviation folk have about the plan. Consider:

  • At risk would also be funding for general aviation and smaller airports – the concern being that large air carriers would funnel more funding to larger airports and hubs.
  • The public airspace belongs to the American public at large and we need to ensure that it continues to operate for the public’s benefit — not just for powerful and influential special interest groups.
  • The current fuel per gallon tax is the most efficient, cost effective, least bureaucratic and most fair means to pay for ATC and the airspace system.
  • Europe, Canada and New Zealand employ user fees. Users of these systems frequently complain of delayed and inaccurate billing, as well as being “blocked” from the airspace during certain day parts.
  • Delta Airlines (the only major airline that has voiced concern about the user-fees and the safety of privatization) states it costs them over $100 per flight segment to process user fees – a cost that will be passed on to the flying public.
  • Canada and Europe claim to be equally as safe, if not safer than the US system. To say “as safe or safer” is misleading as the U.S. ATC system handles far more air traffic than Canada and Europe combined. Canada’s daily air traffic control amounts to the same number of flights controlled in Illinois on a daily basis.
  • Proponents of a privatized ATC system state that it will cost less to operate. Yet, our ATC system has never “shut down” due to a lack of funding, even during the darkest of economic days. In Europe, the privatized ATC system has been “bailed out” 3 times during economic downturns, and still operates under tremendous financial strain.

We are the first to agree that the FAA must operate more efficiently – but the key to that is maintaining Congressional oversight and retaining fuel taxes in order to protect the interests of all stakeholders, communities and airports — large and small.

The national airspace belongs to all of us. Let’s not turn our skies into a toll-road only special interests can afford to use.