Empty Leg Jet Charters: A Leg Up or Too Good to be True?

James Butler Stresses the Importance of Vetting Empty Leg Brokers and Operators

Bethesda, Maryland • February 2017

When a charter operator needs to reposition an aircraft for its next charter flight, that flight leg often is flown empty—without paying passengers—thus the term, empty leg.  By some estimates, as much as 40% of all private jet flights are empty legs. Rather than eating the entire cost of empty legs, operators often offer them to the public at significantly reduced pricing, albeit usually on rather short notice.  Now, more than ever, third party brokers utilizing the internet have gotten into the game, aggregating empty legs from various operators and offering them for public consumption.

Empty legs can provide a “win/win” for the private flyer and the charter operator.  But, as with anything else in private aviation, it’s essential that you ask the right questions before committing.   Here are just a few:

  • Safety - Your first and foremost concern always is safety.  Find out the specific operator, aircraft and crew you’ll be flying with.  Do they have top safety ratings from services like Wyvern or ARG/US?  How many hours do the pilots have flying that particular type of aircraft?  What avionics and other safety equipment are on the aircraft?
  • Departure & Arrival - Are the departure date/time and airport, and the arrival airport firmly established?  If there’s leeway in the departure date/time, make sure you determine whether the worst-case scenario will still work for you.
  • Cancellations - What is the cancellation policy? (Especially important if you’re required to pay in advance.)
  • Pricing - Is the pricing “all in” and guaranteed? If not, what are the additional costs?
  • Broker vs. Operator - Who are you actually contracting with?  (Third party companies often do no more than put you and the operator together for a fee.  If something goes wrong, you don’t want to be in the position of having the third party and the operator telling you to look to the other one.)

In sum, don’t be in a rush and don’t be so blinded by the discounted price that you forget to do the proper due diligence.  This isn’t like a flash sale on Groupon.  You’re putting your life and the lives of your family members in the hands of an operator, its aircraft and pilots.  As always, the two most important rules are: “Safety First” and “Buyer Beware.” 

Shaircraft maintains relationships with many first-class jet charter providers. To discuss how we can assist you with chartering flights, please contact us.

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