How to start an airline

If you’re going to start an airline then you need a number of things, for example quite a lot of money. In order to stay on the right side of the law you will need an air operator’s certificate (AOC).

Under European Regulations any transport of passengers, cargo or mail for remuneration is described as ‘commercial air transport’. In order to conduct commercial air transport, the aircraft operator must hold an AOC. This applies whether the whole aircraft is chartered, e.g. business jets or cargo flights; or if individual passengers pay to travel, e.g. by buying a ticket (there are some limited exception for local pleasure flights or cost-sharing). An AOC can be granted by the ‘Competent Authority’ (CA) of the State where the operator is based, for example the Civil Aviation Authority or Director General of Civil Aviation. Once an AOC has been granted in one EU Member State the operator is approved to conduct commercial air transport in any Member State.

Before an AOC is granted the CA must verify that the operator will comply with all the applicable regulatory requirements. This can be a lengthy and complex process. The operator will need to submit documents describing every aspect of the organisation and planned operation. The operator will need to show that managers have appropriate qualifications and experience and, once the CA has checked all the documents, the CA will conduct audits and inspections where the operator will have to demonstrate to the CA how all management processes will work and how it will comply with all the regulations. This will include compliance monitoring procedures and safety risk assessment procedures. Any shortcomings will have to be corrected. Finally, the operator will need to conduct one or more demonstrations where it will conduct a number of flights using the actual crew and aircraft that will be used for commercial air transport. Only if the CA is satisfied that all the regulations are followed on these flights can the AOC be issued.

The AOC application process will take many months. Authorities will tell you that you need to submit an application a minimum of three months before you intend to start commercial operations, in fact the process is hardly ever completed in less than six months. Nine months to one year would be a realistic timescale for planning purposes.

If you’re planning to start an airline then you’ll already have an idea of what your operating costs will be. Having all the people premises, contractors and aircraft in place will cost money even if the aircraft aren’t flying.  If the process of getting your AOC takes longer than planned then cost overruns can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of Euro.

At McKechnie Aviation our consultants have experience of dealing with AOC applications from the point of view of both the Authority and the applicant. We can help you put together a realistic plan and mitigate the risks of non-compliance. We won’t sell you a manual and tell you that it’s already been approved (that can’t be true) but we will work with you to develop all the documentation you need and to implement the processes and procedures described in the documentation. We’ll train your crew and other staff and, if required, we can act as interim managers until the AOC is approved and your own managers have the necessary experience and qualifications.