Unlicensed flights turning Malaysia into second biggest market for ‘grey charters’ after China, survey finds

The Subang aviation cluster in Selangor is quickly becoming a hub for illegal charter flights. — Flickr pic via Wikimedia Commons
The Subang aviation cluster in Selangor is quickly becoming a hub for illegal charter flights. — Flickr pic via Wikimedia Commons

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 23 — A recent industry survey by the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) Malaysia has revealed the Subang aviation cluster in Selangor is quickly becoming a hub for illegal charter flights.

The Malaysian Reserve reported that such flights operate below the authorities’ radar and pose serious safety risks to passengers as well as eat into the businesses of licenced operators.

AsBAA Malaysia chapter head Aida Ismail said the survey indicated that Malaysia has the second-highest number of private jet flights operating without a valid air operator certificate (AOC) in Asia, after China.

“Firstly, insurance does not cover any accident that may happen with the flight, and such illegal operations threaten the country’s aviation safety reputation.

“Secondly, we have operators spending millions applying for AOCs or foreign AOCs while adhering to the regulations, but the illegal jet charter operators do not, yet get to do business,” she said.

Currently, legally hired aircraft must operate with an AOC, following the regulations established by the US Federal Aviation Administration under FAR Part 135 and flown by commercial pilots.

Part-135 certified aircrafts are subject to rigorous safety standards for maintenance, flight operations, ground operations, crew experience and training, among others.

Aida described such illegal movements as “grey charters”, likening the illegal private jet operations to unlicenced air taxis.

She added that aircraft owners or operators may not be aware of the regulations and take on passengers for hire in exchange for payment, without realising they are offering illegal charter services. 

At the same time, passengers and sometimes aircraft pilots are oblivious that the flight is illegal. 

An aviation industry source said eight out of 10 private jet flights were likely illegal charters during the Sabah state election period in September. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio was estimated to be 50:50. 

The source said grey charter flights in Subang are fuelled by high demand that has outnumbered supply. 

It added there are likely over 15 jets in Subang that are actively doing illegal charter operations. 

Aida said the AsBAA is currently in talks with governing agencies to tackle grey charters, with several proposals including the improvement of the registry processes for aircraft and penalties for fraudulent operators.