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What is the difference between travelling on commercial airlines and hiring a charter aircraft or flying as a passenger on a private aircraft?

Whilst travel by air is a safer mode of transport than travelling by road, some modes of air travel have less risk than others. When compared with charter and private aircraft operators, travel in commercial airlines should have a lower risk by virtue of the fact that these operators come under much stricter surveillance from local regulatory bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority Australia (CASA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and various government controlled Civil Aviation Authorities’ around the world. This includes more intense pilot training/checking requirements, more restrictive flight and duty times to eliminate fatigue, strict medical and drug and alcohol surveillance and more restrictive oversight on the management of Flight Operations and Aircraft Maintenance. Operating crew are also more likely to have greater experience and have been exposed to aircraft simulator time. Taking into account various surveys from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) etc, passengers on charter and private aircraft compared to those on commercial airlines are many times more likely to experience an accident.

What measures can be taken to mitigate the risk of flying on charter or private aircraft?

As regulatory oversight is limited with regard to charter and private operations compared to commercial airlines and the regulatory requirements are at a lower ceiling (for instance a Commercial Pilots licence can be attained with as little as 150 hours for fixed wing aircraft or 100 hours for Helicopter experience compared to an Airline Transport Pilots Licence being 1500 hours flying time) it is advisable to seek detailed information prior to use. Pilot error or insufficient skill set accounts for over 50% of fatal aircraft accidents. It is therefore important to ensure the operator of choice has a solid training program and strict checking requirements. Other causes of fatal accidents can be maintenance related through poor maintenance practices, use of non approved (cheaper) parts and unqualified maintenance staff.

The risks associated with inexperience or poor work practices can be mitigated by commissioning an independent audit from a recognised and accredited aviation audit company. During the audit, experience levels of both pilots and maintenance staff can be assessed, safety records can be reviewed (including accident history), aircraft maintenance and flight operations policy and procedures and records can be checked along with the suitability of the company aircraft or pilot/s to carry out the task required.

Enhancement of the risk mitigation measures

Working with an accredited aviation audit company to tailor the audit to a specific scope can further enhance the audit process. This could entail the review of specific flying operations where additional skills are required for such tasks as power line inspections, external load lifting, mountain flying, offshore helicopter operations, low level surveys etc. or it could be associated with the risks of flying to remote locations or flights over hostile terrain. Whatever the task, a skilled aviation safety consultant can assist and enhance the safety of the operation.