““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Taking off in a hurry
You absolutely, positively have to get there right away. How quickly can you be airborne?
A quality charter operator should be able to arrange a rush booking–variously called a “pop-up,” “go-now” or “time-critical” flight–in about two hours for a typical domestic trip. You may have to give three hours’ notice for nearby international destinations or if you’re chartering a large-cabin aircraft that requires a long time to prepare. And the wait could be even longer for other international destinations, including the U.S. In fact, you might be able to travel roundtrip via airliner to some places in less time than it would take to receive approvals and permits for a charter flight.
The crew that will be on your aircraft isn’t standing by at the airport, ready to hop aboard. They’re on call, and typically must live within an hour of the airport. Their commute accounts for roughly the first of the two hours to takeoff, while flight planning, weather briefing, aircraft preflight and servicing and taxi time account for the second. In a best-case scenario, which could reduce wheels-up time to less than an hour, an appropriate airplane with crew has just returned to your local airport, or your charter broker finds a nearby deadheading aircraft that can divert. In a worst-case scenario, the airplanes and crews at your airport are all occupied, and getting one ferried in could take several hours.
Crew duty time can also be a factor. If your need for charter occurs near the end of their shift, your flight could put them over their allowable work time. A fresh crew would have to be rounded up, likely extending your wait for departure.
One bit of good news: while businesses in most fields charge a premium for a rush job, charter operators do not; rapid response is in air charter’s DNA. Nevertheless, you may wind up paying more, as you’ll have fewer options. “Last-minute bookings may mean that the customer has to choose a larger aircraft and position it from another airport, driving a higher cost,” said Jeff Trance, director of sales at UK-based charter broker Air Partner. Additionally, if the mission involves flying into a destination after the regular business hours of an FBO there, you will likely incur a call-out charge for after-hours service.
How to Speed Things Up
Drive to another airport. More readily available aircraft may be at a different airport. If so, consider going there rather than waiting for the airplane to come to you. “The time and cost required to transfer the client to another airport by ground is usually far less than the time and cost necessary to ferry the aircraft to the preferred departure point,” said Jeff Trance of charter broker Air Partner.
Verify your provider’s capabilities. “If you’re dedicated to an operator, check out their fleet and what they have in it as backup,” advised Wayne Rizzi, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based charter broker Air Royale International. If you work with a broker, probe its relationships with operators. “Brokers typically all claim to have more than a thousand quality jets at their disposal,” Rizzi noted. “But how many operators does your broker actually work with, operators that they can call for last-minute needs?”
Cut through red tape. International flights require permits based on their origin and destination, the aircraft’s registry and countries being overflown. A charter provider should be able to secure permits for travel to the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico for U.S.-registered aircraft within two to three hours and for flights to Western Europe in about 24 hours. Permits for flights to Asia and South America can take 24 to 72 hours. European-registered aircraft flying to the U.S. require at least 24 hours’ notice for U.S. DOT approval. “We often come up with creative solutions, such as flying into a country not requiring permits and arranging a charter to pick the passenger up there for the final leg,” noted David Rimmer, president of charter operator ExcelAire in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
Keep info on file. “It helps to have all your details [on file] with a 24/7 charter provider,” said Tom Bax, president of Sentient Jet Charter, a charter broker in Weymouth, Mass., that is a division of Sentient Jet. “That way, passport information, dates of birth, contact phone numbers and method of payment aren’t an issue when you’re trying to set up last-minute travel.”