There is nothing in law to prevent the carriage of non-paying passengers on an instructional flight, apart, of course, from solo flights by a student pilot. If the only payment made is for carriage of the trainee pilot under instruction, the flight is classed as aerial work, and no Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is needed. However, if any passenger has paid to be carried, the flight is classed as public transport, and is illegal unless the operator holds an AOC. Illegal public transport flights are usually offered at a substantial discount to the cost of those undertaken by approved operators. The reason for this is that the illegal flights are unregulated and do not provide passenger insurance cover. Illegal flights are infrequent but they take business from the correctly licensed operators.
The BHA works closely with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to stamp out the practice and protect the interests of its membership. A leaflet entitled “Is my flight legal? – A Guide to the Air Operator’s Certificate” has been prepared by the CAA and a copy can be found below.
You may also report a breach in transport regulations to the CAA by downloading the attached CAA Breach Report Form and sending it to The BHA.
If you wish to check the validity of the operator’s AOC status you can check this on the CAA website at www.caa.co.uk/aocholders