Duty Time Limitations for Chartered Jets
One of the great advantages of traveling by private jet is that the schedule revolves around you. Your chartered jet is at your beck and call twenty-four hours a day, every day…or is it? It can be flown as often or as little as you like…right? Unfortunately, flight crews are not quite so unfettered, so their operational limitations should be taken into account before planning a trip. By regulation, FAR 135 operators cannot schedule their crews more than a 14-hour duty day when preceded by 10 consecutive hours of rest.
How does this affect the travelers?
A fairly common scenario in which duty limits may affect your schedule is on a one-day business trip. Suppose you depart on a six hundred nautical mile trip at 8:00 am. The flight takes an hour and half. You arrive at your destination by 9:30am and make it to the office by 10. You complete a full day of meetings and end the day with a business dinner, which lasts from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. By the time you return to the airport, it is 9:00pm. By PAR 135 duty limit standards, your flight crew would have already been on duty for fourteen hours (assuming it took them an hour to complete pre-flight checks on the airplane that morning) and would be ineligible to complete the return flight.
This rule was not intended to hamstring business operations; it exists only to keep drowsy pilots out of the air. Duty time limitations can be successfully avoided with some preparation. Solutions vary by the type of FAA rules you travel under:
Private jet owners who operate under FAR part 91 will likely have only one crew, so switching out pilots mid-way through a day is not desirable. However, flight crews can rest during the day and be eligible to begin a new flight later on quite safely. Many FBO’s have day rooms in which crews can nap during the day or local hotels would be happy to rent a room for several hours for some quality rest time for your crew. This allows your crew to legally (and safely) fly the return route later on in the evening.
Travelers that fly FAR part 135 charter are in a slightly more complicated situation. If the flight begins and ends at the home airport, crews will accrue only the one hour’s worth of preflight time before you take off. However, if your aircraft must be repositioned, expect crews to spend three to four hours on duty day repositioning and preparing for each flight (one hour’s worth of preflight checks on each end, plus the half- hour or hour-long repositioning flights). This will significantly extend the duty hours of the crew both in the morning and at night and may eliminate the option of having more than just four hours on the ground. Some business travelers opt to solve this dilemma by sending the morning crew home via commercial flight and bringing in a fresh flight crew for the night flight, if one is available. This would obviously drive up the cost of the trip, but would give you greater flexibility in schedule planning. One detail to keep in mind, however, is that the replacement crew’s duty time will still accrue while they are en route to fly your aircraft — technically, their duty-day starts as soon as they arrive at the airport to take their commercial flight. Another alternative is to have the initial crew start 10 hours of rest upon arrival at the destination airport. This is legal and safe way to accomplish the trip but may delay your return.
Fractional owners will rarely run into this limitation, as travel agendas such as this are broken into two one-way trips. Each leg of their flight would be flown by separate crews. Even though most fractional operations still fall under the penumbra of Part 135 regulations, they use separate crews that would have started their duty days at different times and would not be under any legal or physical limitations to fly your aircraft for the return trip after dinner. Remember…although not as often, it is still possible for fractional crews to run into duty issues if you are late to the airport or there is a weather delay.
The duty time regulation often necessitates some additional planning, but is generally not prohibitive enough to limit your travel schedule. This regulation aims only to ensure that flight crews can perform their job safely. This issue can be dealt with effectively with some additional planning and incremental cost.