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Grey Charter Flights: Illegal Charter Operations and How to Avoid Them

In recent years, grey charters have been making headlines. Our experts talk about the growing trend in illegal charter operations and how you can avoid them.

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Richard Smith

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As one of the world’s leading aircraft charter brokerages and a member of The Air Charter Association (BACA), ACC is committed to upholding the aviation industry’s highest standards and codes of practice.

As such, carrier due diligence is a fundamental part of the service that we provide.

Like many industries, however, general aviation is vulnerable to fraudulent practices and, more recently, illegal charters, or grey charters, have been making headlines.

Existing legislation requires charter operators to invest significant resources into their organisations, its systems, compliance, oversight, aircraft maintenance and training to ensure the safety of their staff and passengers.

However, according to BACA, the advent of online platforms advertising cost sharing flights has aided a growing trend in the number of illegal charters taking place in the United Kingdom and across Europe.

This issue is not restricted to the UK – the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations are very explicit about what constitutes a cost sharing flight precisely because of the risks posed to passengers flying on grey charters masquerading as cost shares.

And, in 2014, it was estimated that illegal charter flights comprised between 20 and 40 percent of all business aircraft flights in the Middle East.


In order to operate flights commercially, an operator must hold a valid Air Operators Certificate (AOC), demonstrating their adherence to a strict set of regulations designed to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

These include specific standards for aircraft maintenance, flight operations, ground operations, crew experience and training.

A grey charter is an unlicensed aircraft charter operation, meaning that the operator does not have a valid AOC – generally, these are provided by private owners who do not need to adhere to the same regulations as an AOC holder, bypassing training, checking, oversight and compliance requirements which impact the layers of safety that a commercial operator provides.

The only exceptions are when the aircraft is operating a cost sharing flight.


A cost sharing flight is the only way that a non-commercial operator is able to legally carry other passengers outside of personal use.

However, in accordance with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), any direct costs in relation to the flight (fuel, aircraft rental fee, airport charges) must be shared between all aircraft occupants, including the pilot, and there must be no element of profit.

The FAA goes a step further by specifying that the passengers and the pilot must be travelling for a common purpose, i.e. the same reason. Additionally, the pilot must not pay less, nor accept more than a pro-rata share of the expenses.


Cost is a big incentive for people to book an illegal charter over a charter flight that uses a fully licensed commercial operator.

Because they generally incur lower operating costs, private owners and fraudulent operators can charge less, thereby undercutting their competitors.

Additionally, with such widespread lack of awareness surrounding the legal requirements for private charter flights, customers are more often than not completely oblivious to the fact that the flight they are booking is illegal – emphasising the importance of seeking the advice and expertise of a reputable aircraft charter broker.


As previously mentioned, operators who hold an AOC are obligated to meet rigorous safety standards, particularly concerning aircraft maintenance and crew training, and are subject to regular, ongoing inspections by aviation regulators.

With an AOC holder, by the time a passenger gets onto the aircraft, the flight has been overseen and vetted by numerous experts, checking every aspect of the flight with the sole aim of removing as much risk as possible from the operation.

Operators and owners who offer illegal charter flights do not adhere to the same standards and are, therefore, unlikely to be as safe as their legal counterparts.

There is also the fact that participants in illegal charter operations, irrespective of whether they are aware of the flight’s illegality, are unlikely to be insured for the flights they undertake, by either the operator’s policy or their own.


The most certain way to avoid booking an illegal charter flight is by using a reputable aircraft charter broker, registered with The Air Charter Association (BACA).

A trustworthy broker always prioritises passenger safety and carries out all essential due diligence, carefully vetting each operator prior to proposing an aircraft to a client.

This includes, but is by no means limited to, obtaining copies of a valid AOC, Airworthiness Certificate or Airworthiness Review Certificate, Certificate of Registration and Certificate of Insurance.

They will also obtain all necessary permissions in order for the flight to be operated legally and safely.


In terms of identifying a grey charter, a useful rule-of-thumb is “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

So, if the price seems too low, it’s wise to approach with caution.

Or, if you’re new to aircraft charter and unsure about how much it costs to charter an aircraft, The Air Charter Association recommends asking the following questions before proceeding with any aircraft charter booking:

  • Is the aircraft licensed?
  • Can you provide an Air Operators Certificate?
  • What jurisdiction is the aircraft registered under?

For more information on booking an aircraft charter, speak with one of our experts on +44 (0)1737 232 230, make an enquiry or email

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