There has been a lot of discussion about whether JSX operates within the spirit or letter of the law, but I want to focus on one important point: innovation occurs via loopholes and legal gray areas and the JSX business model represents an important test case for the future of aviation in the USA.
JSX Represents The Type Of Aviation Innovation That Should Be Celebrated
While most US carriers operate under 14 CFR Part 121 (a classification for regularly-scheduled air carriers), JSX (formerly known as Jet Suite X), operates under 14 CFR Part 135 (a classification primarily for commuter and on-demand operations).
This is what allows JSX to offer a quasi-private jet experience and use pilots older than 65 (who still must pass the same rigorous health requirements as their younger counterparts) or have flown less than 1,500 hours.
- On-demand operations can be conducted in airplanes that have a passenger seating configuration of 30 seats or less, a maximum payload capacity of 7500 pounds, or in any rotorcraft.
- On-demand certificate holders can also conduct limited scheduled operations with the following additional restrictions:
- Commuter operations may be conducted in airplanes which have a maximum passenger-seating configuration of 9 seats and a maximum payload capacity of 7500 pounds, or in any rotorcraft. Commuter operations cannot be conducted in any turbo-jet aircraft.
(14 CFR 135)
JSX operates a fleet of ERJ-135/145 jets with 30 seats onboard, but appears to operate scheduled service between several cities. How is this possible?
Through a legal loophole–and yes, it is prima facie legal and does appear to be a loophole–by operating under two companies (not that a customer would really ever know). One company sells tickets (JetSuiteX, Inc.) while another (Delux Public Charter, LLC dba JSX Air or Taos Air) operates charter flights on behalf of the ticket seller via 14 CFR Part 380 (a classification for charter operators).
So JSX, a Part 135 carrier does not operate the flights. Instead, it JSX Air, a Part 380 carrier, which has allowed JSX to overcome rules which suggest its scheduled operations should not be on aircraft that have more than nine seats.
ALPA Opposes JSX
This legal theory has not been tested, but is now…as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a union representing commercial pilots at several airlines, is placing the spotlight on JSX to argue that it should be banned.
Since JSX does in fact provide scheduled service, it should be deemed to do so, regardless of the fictitious regulatory disguise that it dons. JSX unequivocally holds out to the public scheduled service with advertisements such as: ‘Schedule extended! Book our flights through March 2024’ and ‘Hop on: our schedule is now available for purchase through March 2024.’
JSX’s public advertising to consumers belies its filing. JSX’s legal position is that if it were not for the FAA’s carveout, JSX’s flights…would be unquestionably and legally ‘scheduled.’ To the consumer, unaware of fine-line regulatory distinctions or even the fine print buried in JSX’s advertisements, JSX’s flights are scheduled – just like its Part 121 competitors.
Using this loophole to swap “scheduled” for “charter” and thereby trade the highest standard of safety for a lesser one is an abuse of the public trust that must be corrected in the public interest.
The context of this move is that SkyWest is considering a similar business model on some Essential Air Service routes that cannot support sufficient traffic to justify a 50-seat jet. The union has an interest in keeping it hard to become a pilot and deems a hazard potential lower wages if these new initiatives begin to proliferate.
Does JSX Operate In Legal Gray Area? Sure. Let’s Clarify It Now.
So here’s where I stand. I agree with Ben that JSX is operating outside the sprit of the law. But I agree with Gary that this stretching of the law should be celebrated, encouraged, and ultimately protected because JSX is good for consumers. I agree with both that the minimum 1,500-hour pilot rule requires revision and will pointedly add that JSX pilots are not simply young kids with no experience, but often former commercial airline senior captains who are sharp and healthy, but have been forced out by the mandatory retirement age of 65 for pilots, regardless of their mental and physical health.
As much as I find the ALPA position to be wholly self-serving, anti-consumer, and even anti-safety, I do think it has a point that JSX is not operating as intended by regulators. The key now is for regulators…or Congress…to clarify this matter in a way that protects JSX (better than a court doing so).
Ben is concerned about the safety of other would-be competitors of JSX. I see that as a parallel issue that the Federal Aviation Administration must closely monitor, but separate from the idea that JSX is attempting to innovate (like Uber, for example) in a legal gray area and should be supported, not cut off.
JSX is stretching the bounds of regulatory language in part to show where it falls short of consumer and safety needs. It is not surprising that a union vested in protecting the status quo opposes such a move, but we must see it for what it is: purely self-serving to protect an entrenched interest. The ALPA position does not holistically benefit consumers if it results in less (still heavily regulated) air service and pushes more people to roads and highways.
So I agree with Ben…and Gary. I love the concept of JSX and want it to thrive. Ideally, I would love if regulators made explicit that its business model is permissible. But its current operations demonstrate that it is a filling an important gap in the market and should be celebrated, not viewed (speciously) as unsafe.