The DOT today issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) titled Consumer Information Regarding On-Demand Air Taxi Operations. The ANPRM seeks comment NTSB recommendations that Part 135 on-demand air taxi operators be required to advise their customers at the time they contract for a flight of: “(1) The name of the company with operational control of the flight; (2) any ‘doing business as’ names contained in such company’s Operations Specifications; (3) the name of the aircraft owner; and (4) the name of any broker involved in arranging the flight” and to update the information thereafter if the information changes.
Although this ANPRM does not seek to regulate the operational control to be exercised by charter operators, it specifically addresses the communication that the NTSB, and apparently the DOT, feels a charter operator should have with a charter customer to disclose who is exercising operational control over a given flight. The DOT believes, and has issued regulations in the past to enforce its belief, that “adequate information is essential in order that consumers be afforded the opportunity to make informed decisions about their flight choices”.
Comments to the ANPRM are due no later than March 27, 2007. The DOT would specifically like comment on the following questions:
1. How might customers and passengers benefit from the information covered by the NTSB recommendation in making their air taxi service purchase decisions?
2. Should any notice requirement, if adopted, also apply to air charter brokers and other ticket agents who arrange for air transportation for customers using the services of on-demand air taxis?
3. To what extent is each of the notices recommended by the Safety Board already provided in the normal course of business to persons who travel using an on-demand air taxi? If such notice is not currently routinely provided, what, if any, practical difficulties would the on-demand air taxi industry likely face in providing the notice?
4. What costs, if any, would the recommended changes impose on the industry? Would there be any paperwork burdens? Would there be a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities?
5. How might the disclosure of the names of the owners of the aircraft involved in the arranged flights be useful to customers and passengers? What, if any, practical or privacy concerns would be raised by such a requirement?
6. At what point in time must any notice, if required, first be provided to be effective, e.g., in printed and website advertisements, to potential customers when they are seeking information, anytime prior to entering into a contract, upon signing the contract, or anytime prior to boarding the aircraft?
7. What form should any notice requirement, if adopted, take? That is, is verbal notice sufficient or must the notice be in writing?
8. What are the practical problems in requiring notice to individual passengers of an on-demand air taxi? Would any notice requirement be sufficient if provided to the person contracting for the flight, e.g., the customer’s broker/agent or a corporation’s travel department or an executive’s assistant who arranged the flight?
The DOT will then evaluate the comments it receives to determine what, if any, changes to its economic rules applicable to on-demand air taxi operators should be made. I encourage all charter operators and brokers to review the ANPRM and submit comments specifically responding to the DOT’s requests. By providing the DOT with this information, if the DOT determines that additional regulation is necessary, hopefully it will be practical and accurately reflect real-world business practices without creating an undue burden on charter operators.