Speak with a regular flier about his priorities when selecting a fractional or charter provider, and chances are good that avoiding catastrophe will be at or near the top of his list. Recognizing this, private aviation companies are taking aggressive measures to improve the safety of the planes they fly. As part of this effort, most secure endorsements from Wyvern and ARG/US (Aviation Research Group/U.S.), the country’s premier safety audit agencies.
Charter operators, which often do not own their aircraft, feel a special need to concentrate on safety. Sentient Jet, for instance, has established a Safety Advisory Board, which includes former Federal Aviation Administration officials, to give the company an external forum for reviewing safety issues. And Jets International, formerly CharterAuction, attempts to provide complete transparency regarding its services, sending each customer detailed preflight information about the aircraft operator, the plane, and the pilots.
Flight Options, the second-largest fractional aircraft company after NetJets, is among the operators that are upgrading their fleets, in this case with a $20-million-per-year aircraft modernization effort. Flight Options is taking older Challenger 601s, Gulfstream IVs, Falcon 50s, Citation IIIs, and other craft out of service and acquiring newer models of the Hawker 400XP light jet, the midsize Hawker 800XP, and the long-range Embraer Legacy 600, along with some pre-owned Cessna Citation Xs. By the end of 2007, Flight Options plans to offer only these four plane types, each less than seven years old on average, compared to 12 plane types in 2005, each with an average age of nine years. CEO Michael Scheeringa notes that in addition to making the fleet younger, the move will reduce the complications and costs involved in maintaining a large number of aircraft types, which will improve safety further.
“We’ve also instituted a safety management system with multiple levels of redundancy, similar to what you’d find in a leading airline,” Scheeringa says. “And we’re the only fractional operator to embark on a safety partnership with the FAA in which everything we do is fully disclosed to the government ahead of time, not after a problem arises.” The CEO recently introduced a new mission statement for Flight Options, and safety is at the top of the priority list.