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American Airlines, Southwest weigh in on JSX’s less restrictive charter jet model

Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines are taking aim at charter jet services, such as North Texas competitor JSX, over pilot requirements and security concerns.

Legacy airlines and some pilot unions are objecting to attempts to expand the niche space in which JSX operates – known in aviation-speak as “Part 135″ charter jet service. Part 135 operators are allowed to forgo Transportation Security Administration lines and other regulations placed on traditional airlines, but can only sell a maximum of 30 seats on their planes.

In a letter added to the over 50,000 comments received by the Federal Aviation Administration, American is the latest to weigh in on the regulations. Its vice president and head of regulatory and international affairs, Molly Wilkinson, said the carrier thinks Federal Aviation Administration regulations should “not be gamed” and aviation security is being undermined without a TSA checkpoint.

“The misuse of the exception for public charter operators under existing FAA regulations … distorts competition and degrades our nation’s aviation system,” Wilkinson wrote.

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In August, the FAA sought input on new updates to safety regulations for charter jet companies, which operate without as many rules as larger commercial carriers.

The conversation amplified when regional airline operator SkyWest, which works with airlines such as American and United, asked federal authorities to operate its own Part 135 charter service, similar to JSX. In a letter to the Department of Transportation signed by major pilot unions, including the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s pilots, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents Southwest’s pilots, union leaders said they were concerned about the application from SkyWest.

Last week, Southwest wrote to the FAA to urge a review of the practices by “certain scheduled passenger airlines.”

“This so-called ‘public charter loophole’ should be closed swiftly, and the safety of flying public and flight crew members should be the FAA’s only consideration,” said Andrew Watterson, chief operating officer at Southwest. “We urge the FAA to take all steps necessary … and return to the one level of safety principle for all passenger airlines operating a published schedule and using aircraft with 10 or more seats.”

JSX chief executive Alex Wilcox pointed to the disproportionate operation sizes between major carriers and his 8-year-old private charter jet service that operates from Love Field in Dallas. “We find ourselves attacked by two of the biggest airlines on planet Earth,” he said.

In an Oct. 4 email to JSX customers, Wilcox accused American and Southwest of pushing “misinformation and unsubstantiated safety claims in a brazen attempt to regulate JSX out of business. In fact, JSX has a flawless safety record and far exceeds applicable safety, security and regulatory standards.”

JSX sells tickets on its 30-seat Embraer jets and TSA screening is not required because of the small number of passengers on the flight. Wilcox said JSX has a “blemish-free” security history.

“Small is beautiful,” Wilcox said. “There’s 30 people that we’re worried about.”

Pilots and first officers at large U.S. air carriers are required to undergo certification that includes accumulating 1,500 flight hours. JSX and other Part 135 carriers such as Tennessee’s Contour Airlines only require first officers to have 250 hours of flight experience and captains to have 1,200 hours, according to SimpleFlying.

Wilcox said JSX has “self-imposed” duty time limits for how it schedules pilots. “There’s really no difference in terms of the pilot and in terms of training standards,” he said.

Dennis Tajer, communications chair for the Allied Pilots Association, said there simply shouldn’t be two sets of rules.

“How in the world, just because there are 30 souls on board or less and I have 170 souls on board my airplane, can you have a different set of rules? You deserve the same set,” Tajer said.

This week, Volato, a private aviation firm, expanded its Volato Go! flight program in Texas, with one-way flights between Love Field, William P. Hobby Airport in Houston and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Volato flies based on customer requests so it’s not governed by the charter jet regulations.

JSX has a fleet of 47 active airplanes, operating about 100 flights a day with about 1,000 employees, he said. There are over 1,800 private air charter operators and over 11,000 private charter aircraft in the country, according to the U.S. Private Aviation Association.

Wilcox said if lawmakers want to mandate what JSX is “already doing because it’s the right thing to do,” he has no problem with that.

“We are fighting fire with fire,” he said. “We’re going to win this thing decisively.”


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