The Real Reason Big Airlines And Unions Are Scared Of Average People Flying Private – And How The FAA Is Being Played To Shut It Down

There are more than 4 million private flights per year. Most of them depart from private terminals (“FBOs”) and most of those have no security screening at all. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines both sell charter services and promote skipping TSA.

JSX offers first class and private terminals and makes those available to the public, allowing people to buy individual seats rather than the whole plane. That makes it affordable. United Airlines and JetBlue don’t mind this – they both own stakes in JSX. American Airlines and Southwest do mind, since JSX is based in Dallas.

JSX Cabin Interior

But while American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have used all their lobbying might to try to get the federal government to shut down competitor JSX – because JSX offers a product that consumers prefer to their own – the origin of the fight against JSX stems from the big pilot union. And it wasn’t even JSX they were really concerned with.

  • SkyWest filed with the FAA to launch SkyWest Charter, a part 135 carrier which would use commercial terminals (unlike JSX) but wouldn’t be subject to the 1,500 hour rule for co-pilots or age 65 mandatory retirement age.

    They wanted access to pilots to fly their Essential Air Service routes to small airports. It’s a lot easier to amortize a $200,000 a year pilot over 170 seats on a Boeing 737 than it is to pay that same prevailing wage to fly a half-empty 30 seat plane.

  • That triggered the Air Line Pilots Association, which fought hard to make it more expensive and take longer to become a pilot. They didn’t want an expansion of flying outside of rules meant to limit the supply of pilots.

  • To go after SkyWest Charter – which fully complies with current rules, but DOT has simply sat on the application for no valid reason – they had to go after JSX which is a bigger scheduled charter operation. There are others, like Contour, but they saw the space growing.

  • Once the union started going after Dallas-based JSX, they were able to get Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and American Airlines on board for the fight. American Airlines CEO Robert Isom told employees in a closed-door meeting that their motive was commercial.

    The airlines call the long-standing rules that allow JSX to operate 30 seat planes out of private terminals a “loophole” that they want to close. Ironically, Southwest describes their own founding as possible only because of a ‘loophole’. They were allowed to launch and offer discount fares because they only flew within Texas (and weren’t subject to federal Civil Aeronautics Board rules) and were allowed to fly out of Love Field when other airlines had decamped for DFW because they hadn’t been party to the agreement not to use the close-in airport.

JSX at Dallas Love Field

The Biden Administration has agreed to take on the fight against JSX. The Washington Times suggests that this is because it’s a labor union asking and JSX and SkyWest are non-union. That may be part of it, but it doesn’t seem like it’s the full story.

Remember that, though heavily unionized, pilots also skew heavily Republican. “Let’s Go Brandon” and other political statements were making it into a decent amount of cockpit chatter with air traffic control and even passenger announcements over the past few years. Here’s what your average ALPA union looks like, by the way.

Nonetheless, the FAA plans to issue regulations cracking down on part 135 carriers and then investigate whether there are actual safety issues. This is a solution in search of a problem, because no one wants to talk about the real reason lobbyists have been pushing this.

There is simply no legitimate safety concern with JSX operations.

  • Using private terminals is fine. JSX security is far stricter than required, and certainly more so than the 4.5 million private flights operating each year. They have an approved TSA Twelve-Five Standard Security Program. Every bag is swabbed, every passenger walks through a weapons detector, and every ID is checked against government targeting databases.

  • The 1,500 hour co-pilot rule is pure rent-seeking. After the Colgan Air crash in 2009, Congress was looking to do something about safety. And the Air Line Pilots Association was there with a wish list. Legislation included important changes to pilot rest rules, but also rules that sounded great like ‘more pilot training’.

    While the majority of JSX pilots exceed 1,500 hours, the rule itself is counterproductive. Aspiring commercial pilots do everything possible to rack up hours – but those bear no relation to what they’ll be doing in commercial flight. It’s mostly clear air touch and go’s, not real world conditions. And the hours requirement doesn’t even mean hours flying planes, since time in a hot air balloon counts. The hot air balloon can even be tethered – no requirement to even pilot it!

    In the quest for hours, pilots develop bad habits that commercial airlines now have to train out of them. The Colgan Air crash wouldn’t have been prevented by the 1,500 hour requirement, since both pilots had far more than this to begin with.

  • Different safety rules are needed for different missions. Flying widebody jets to Europe and Asia is a very different job than one- to two-hour hops in a regional jet, where 90% of flights return to base at night. JSX pilots sleep in their own beds. Long haul pilots sleep in hotel rooms 6- and 12- hours off from their regular sleep patterns. Applying the safe rules to all flying types is counterproductive, when you’re far less likely to run into pilot fatigue at JSX than American Airlines.

The FAA wants to apply the same rules to all flying types – except those that the wealthy can afford, or when charters are sold by American Airlines, Southwest, and other entrenched interests. Of course when American and Southwest do it, their planes are piloted by union crew.

The Air Line Pilots Association pitches their call for increased regulation as ‘one level of safety’ but that isn’t true at all. Foreign airlines fly in the U.S. every day with co-pilots who have less than 1,500 hours of flight time. They takeoff and land from U.S. airports and fly across U.S. airspace. And not for nothing, but American Airlines has no issue with airlines they own a stake in – like Gol – doing this as well.

The FAA doesn’t actually have jurisdiction over security screening, that falls on TSA. That’s why the major airlines aren’t taking chances – they’ve gone to TSA also. Former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson button-holed the TSA Administrator over a crackdown on JSX. And TSA has said they’re considering this request.

Meanwhile, SkyWest has taken the Department of Transportation to court because DOT has simply ignored their application for SkyWest Charter. Even if the FAA plans to make the business model illegal later that is still speculative, and it’s 100% legal today. SkyWest Charter originally planned to launch in October 2022. The government can’t deny the request. A court will decide whether they can simply ignore it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Jsx is great so it’s no wonder American would go after them. There would be no jsx if American offered a good product but they don’t. I am exec platinum for years and always fly 1st class and usually pay for it and have done this for years only to suffer thru Aas inferior service

  2. I agree with you Gary, though as I’ve mentioned elsewhere the requirements for an air transport certificate with a multiengine category rating are far beyond logging much balloon time. For one thing, this requires an airplane instrument rating. So bringing up lighter than air flying is somewhat of a specious argument. Anyway, a person making the same short flights or instructing just in visual conditions isn’t going to have much real world experience with which to impress an airline–nor will they be well prepared for training in a passenger jet, But 1000 hours, 1200, 1500, these are arbitrary numbers and like the age 65 rule (finally raised from 60) are pretty pointless.

    But when the words “aviation safety” are raised logical thinking goes out the window, and the FAA is not known for boldness in deviating from the ruts it gets itself into. Arguably the third class medial should have been eliminated and people have been discussing this for a long time. Perhaps something will be done about it…in a long time.

  3. @drrichard I certainly hope and trust that a part 121 carrier won’t hire someone with a third of their logged hours in a tethered balloon. The point isn’t that this is happening, but that the sacred (to ALPA) requirement is just a tool to drive up cost and time into the profession. It is absolutely the case that airlines have to train bad habits out of pilots with newly obtained commercial licenses – habits picked up in their quest to rack up hours that bear no relation to commercial operations.

  4. I’m also agreed with you, Gary, except for your discounting the Washington Times Story. This administration has proven to have it’s hand heavy on the scale when it comes to supporting Unions.

  5. I have greatly enjoyed flights on JSX. I hope the FAA doesn’t shut them down.

  6. what Delta pilot union “looks like”? We all know what you’re saying. Can you democrats ever not do identity politics? OK, do the AA FA union now…why haven’t you commented on what they look like? Well, if you want to play that game, check the demographics at the next whacko climate change domestic terrorist attack or antifa riot. You might be surprised. Not many minorities, but lots of spoiled little rich kids.

  7. I defend capitalism all the time. I prefer the term free enterprise. This type of thing is a danger to free enterprise. It’s crony capitalism (like having our taxes go to build professional sports venues, protective import duties, etc.). If someday we’re condemed to the nightmare of a country ruled by the gestapo of the economic radical left, these idiots will have helped cause it.

  8. drrichard wrote:
    > Arguably the third class medial should have been eliminated and people have been discussing this for a long time. Perhaps something will be done about it…in a long time.

    Nobody has seriously discussed it because the 3rd class medical served a purpose. In 2017 the FAA replaced it with BasicMed. The reason so many people have BasicMed instead of 3rd class medical is because it confers the same privileges without the hassle and cost of the AME exam, or a special issuance for things that one’s own general practitioner can treat.

    For a pilot not flying for hire getting an annual physical exam once a year and having the doc sign off on the questionaire for BasicMed is much nicer.

    I’ve flown JSX a couple of times and found their aircraft, service, and efficiency to beat all but the Part 135 private jet flights I’ve been on.


    P.S. I have my own “safety wishlist” and I’m sure ALPA wouldn’t agree. Among them raise the fuel reserve amount for any Part 91 fixed-wing operation, fine any pilot that lands on a pubilc roadway due to fuel starvation, add a subaudible squawk code to every pilot to ATC transmission, and homologate all three “night definitions” into one coherent one.

  9. Dave W. Is right. This is pure suppression of free enterprise. The Biden Admin is anti freedom to the core.
    Jsx has a nice business model that we’ll serves customers. It would be a shame if the bureaucracy killed it.

  10. Congress should step in and resolve the legal ambiguity.

    I’m hesitant to enhance further gerontocracy, so I don’t want the 65 retirement age undermined. Millennials don’t get normal retirement until 67 anyway.

    The hot air balloon loophole should be eliminated

  11. Just the latest case of corporations buying off a government and politicians to benefit THEMSELVES. It’s truly a shame that this federal government has been able to get away with murder. It’s not easy to kill an entire country, but they’ve done it. Hiring the judges and paying their salaries buys a certainty in the legal system that wiuld be illegal by you or me.

  12. Mantis is an ignorant trumper. Some clown always has to brings politics into discussions. Leave fu””ing politics out of it. Low rent dopes…

  13. This article is ridiculous. It is a loophole and it should be closed. Or then go the other way and allow regionals to have lax oversight and no TSA. You can’t possible have it both ways and consider it fair.

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