The rise of illegal private jet charter flights, also known as grey charter flights or Part 134 and a half (almost Part 135), has become a significant concern in the private aviation industry. These illegal charters have proliferated, especially during COVID-19, leading to what some describe as a "whack-a-mole" situation where shutting down one operation only leads to another emerging. The allure of making money drives the existence of fraud, scams, and illegal charters, with some operators or brokers offering flights without the intention of fulfilling them, leading to lost funds for unsuspecting clients.

Personal Stories from the Front Lines

Richard Zaher, CEO of Paramount Business Jets and former Chairman of The Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA), has firsthand experience with the darker side of private aviation. He recalls instances where clients, brokers, and operators sought his assistance in navigating situations where they had been deceived. One notable example involved a broker who transferred $220,000 to an overseas operator for a flight that was never intended to occur. The investigation revealed that the images on the fraudulent operator's website were stolen from a legitimate operator, highlighting the sophisticated deceit employed by scammers in the industry. 

A deeper investigation into the fraudulent activities of the overseas operator unfolded. As Zaher and his team delved further, it was uncovered that the scam ran much deeper than initially thought. The fraudulent operator had not only deceived a single broker but had successfully scammed dozens of other unsuspecting clients, operators, and brokers across the private aviation industry.

The unraveling of this extensive scam came to light through a collaborative effort between the defrauded parties. As word spread within the industry about the deceitful practices of this particular operator, more victims came forward, sharing their own stories of being swindled. These collective experiences painted a clear picture of a sophisticated scamming operation that preyed on the trust and lack of due diligence within the sector.

Passenger doing work on private jet

What is an Illegal Private Charter?

Illegal private charters, or grey charters, operate without meeting legal requirements, lacking proper air charter certification, qualified pilots, sufficient insurance, or adequately maintained aircraft. The distinction between Part 91 (private, non-commercial operations) and Part 135 (commercial charter operations) is crucial, with the latter requiring rigorous standards for aircraft, maintenance, crew, insurance, and ongoing safety training. Engaging in an illegal charter exposes everyone onboard to legal and financial risks, especially in the event of an accident or flight cancellation. 

It's not uncommon for individuals to propose financial compensation to a friend who owns a jet for a private flight, or for a Part 91 aircraft owner or operator to accept payment for a flight that breaches legal boundaries. However, engaging in such transactions is fraught with risks and should be avoided. In the event of an accident, insurance for the aircraft will not cover any damages or liabilities arising from an illegal charter flight. Moreover, those involved could face substantial fines and even possible incarceration for violating aviation regulations.

Private Jet waiting for passengers

Recognizing Fraudsters and Scammers

Fraudsters and scammers pervade the industry, manifesting as brokers, operators, and even clients. They employ various deceptive practices, such as using stolen images to create credible-looking websites, manufacturing client reviews, and engaging in credit card fraud. The pandemic saw a rise in illegal charter activities due to increased demand, while credit card fraud by clients surprisingly declined, possibly due to heightened travel scrutiny. 

Should you fall victim to fraud, a cost-effective option is to enlist, which will openly call out the involved operator or broker on social media, pressuring them to reimburse your money.

How to Protect Yourself from Illegal Private Charters

  1. Due Diligence: Always verify the legitimacy of brokers and operators, especially new ones. Look for Part 135 Certification or the operator's certificate number, which can be verified on the FAA website.

  2. Watch for Red Flags: Deals that seem too good to be true, lack of Federal Excise Taxes in invoices, separate billing for pilots and flights, and instructions on what to say to FAA inspectors are all warning signs.

  3. Consult Reputable Sources: Use experienced private charter brokers and look for memberships with reputable associations like The Air Charter Association (BACA) and safety organizations like ARGUS and Wyvern.

  4. Check Reviews: Go beyond the provider's website and look for third-party reviews on platforms like Google Reviews or Trustpilot.

  5. Research the Company: Google the company and its owners with keywords like "fraud" to uncover any potential red flags.

  6. Verify the Operator and Aircraft: This is a FAA list (in Excel) of all aircraft operators and aircraft certificated under 14 CFR part 135 for commuter or on-demand operations.

  7. Report Suspicions: If you encounter or suspect an illegal charter, report it. The Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) has a hotline (1-888-759-3581) for reporting illegal charters.

The threat of illegal charter flights, fraud, and scams is a global issue that requires vigilance from clients, brokers, and operators alike. Awareness and proactive measures are key to protecting oneself in the high-stakes world of private aviation. Paramount Business Jets is committed to ensuring safety and compliance by rigorously reviewing operators, aircraft, and crews, coupled with real-time third-party safety audits, providing peace of mind for clients. 

For more tips on safeguarding yourself against unauthorized charters, explore our earlier blog titled "Ensuring Legitimate and Secure Private Jet Charters: A Comprehensive Guide."

For more information or if you're in need of a charter broker that values ethics and transparency, with almost two decades of experience, consider reaching out to Paramount Business Jets. We can be contacted at 1-877-727-2538 EXT. 1 or send an email to