A ‘grey’ charter is a flight operated illegally by an aircraft that is not suitably operated, licensed or insured. Grey charters are not new, but they have been increasing in frequency in recent years.

There are tell-tale signs of a grey charter, but not all of them are apparent to those that are not involved in the industry.

What are the requirements of a legitimate charter operator?

Air Operator Certificate (AOC):

An Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is a certification granted by a civil aviation authority to an airline or aviation operator that allows them to operate commercial aircraft for hire or reward. It is a regulatory requirement in many countries and serves as evidence that the operator has met the necessary safety, operational, and regulatory standards to conduct commercial air transportation.

To obtain an AOC, an airline or aviation operator must undergo a rigorous evaluation process by the respective civil aviation authority, which typically includes demonstrating compliance with regulations related to aircraft maintenance, crew training, operations manuals, safety management systems, and other operational requirements. The AOC is usually specific to the type of aircraft, operations, and geographic area for which it is granted.

Holding an AOC signifies that an airline or aviation operator has met the regulatory requirements and is authorised to operate commercial flights, ensuring the safety and compliance of their operations. It is an essential certification for commercial airlines and operators, demonstrating their ability to provide safe and reliable air transportation services to the public.


Insurance for commercial (charter) aircraft differs from that of private aircraft, with varying coverage according to the aircraft’s operations.

Ownership and Use: Private aircraft insurance typically covers aircraft owned and operated for personal or recreational purposes by individuals or small businesses. On the other hand, commercial aircraft insurance is designed for aircraft used for business purposes, such as commercial airlines, cargo operators, charter operators, and other commercial aviation operations.

Coverage Limits: Commercial aircraft insurance generally has higher coverage limits compared to private aircraft due to the higher value of commercial aircraft and the potential for larger liabilities associated with commercial operations. Commercial aircraft insurance may also offer coverage for a fleet of aircraft, while private aircraft insurance typically covers a single aircraft.

Liability Coverage: Commercial aircraft insurance often includes higher liability coverage limits to protect against potential third-party claims resulting from bodily injury, property damage, or other damages caused by commercial aircraft operations. The liability coverage for a private aircraft is typically less since the risks associated with personal or recreational use are generally lower.

Underwriting requirements for commercial aircraft insurance may also be more stringent, including more comprehensive inspections, safety audits, and regulatory compliance, compared to private aircraft insurance.

Licenses and Permits:

All charter flights require operators to have certain licenses and permits. Sometimes, these relate to the operator overall and sometimes to individual flights. However, all legitimate charter operators will be in possession of these licenses and permits.

It is important to understand that operating without proper licenses or permits can have serious legal consequences, including fines, penalties, and even criminal charges. Additionally, engaging in illegal activities can have negative social and economic impacts, such as jeopardising public safety, harming legitimate businesses, and damaging the reputation of the transportation industry.

When chartering an aircraft, it is crucial to ensure that the operator you are flying with complies with all relevant laws, regulations, and licensing requirements. This includes obtaining proper licenses and permits from the appropriate authorities, following all safety regulations, and conducting business ethically and responsibly.

What are the signs of a grey charter?

It’s important to note that illegal grey charters can vary in nature and may not all exhibit the same signs. Here are some signs that may indicate an illegal grey charter:

1) Lack of proper documentation: The most common sign of a grey charter is when an operator fails to produce or produces incomplete or forged documentation, such as an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), aircraft registration, or insurance certificate. Any legitimate charter operator will be able to provide these documents upon request.
2) Suspiciously low prices: The charter price is significantly lower than the prevailing market rates for similar flights, which could indicate that the operator is cutting corners to offer a cheaper service without adhering to proper regulations.
3) Non-compliance with licensing and certification requirements: The charter operator does not possess the necessary licenses, certifications, or permits required by the aviation authorities, or they fail to provide evidence of compliance when requested.
4) Use of unregistered or improperly registered aircraft: The charter flight is operated using an aircraft that is not registered or improperly registered with the appropriate aviation authorities, violating aviation regulations.
5) Lack of safety measures: The operator does not adhere to standard safety practices, such as conducting required maintenance checks or following crew duty time limitations, which could indicate a disregard for safety regulations.
6) Suspicious operational practices: The charter operator engages in suspicious operational practices, such as conducting flights to restricted or prohibited areas, which could raise suspicions of illegal activity.
7) Poor reputation or lack of credible references: The charter operator has a poor reputation, lacks credible references or customer testimonials, or has a history of regulatory violations or non-compliance, which could indicate a lack of legitimacy.

If you suspect that a charter flight may be illegal, it is advisable to verify the credentials and compliance of the charter operator with the relevant aviation authorities before proceeding with the flight.

How can I avoid booking a ‘grey’ charter?

Use a charter broker:

Booking a charter flight through a reputable charter broker, such as Sentient Signature, is a useful way to mitigate the risk of booking an illegal grey charter. Charter brokers act as intermediaries between clients and charter operators, helping to connect customers with reputable and compliant charter operators.

Booking with a reputable charter broker also provides an additional layer of assurance and due diligence in selecting a legitimate charter operator for your flight.

Request to see documentation:

You are well within your rights to request sight of complete and valid documentation from the charter operators recommended by the broker prior to booking your flight. Such documentation may include the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), aircraft registration, and insurance certificates.

Seek professional advice if needed:

If you still have any doubts or concerns about the charter broker or the charter operators they recommend, consider seeking professional advice from aviation experts or legal counsel to ensure that you are making an informed decision.

Whether you require guidance on the most suitable aircraft for your route and number of passengers, assistance with planning your trip itinerary and logistics, or arranging the finer details to form your signature journey, we offer a comprehensive range of air charter and concierge services tailor-made to your requirements, leaving you to rest assured that you are in the hands of a professional service provider.

To discuss your requirements in more detail, telephone +44 (0) 330 043 0041 or email fly@sentiensignature.com.

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