What are Empty Legs ?

November 21st, 2011 by

From the earliest origins of flight for hire, the “empty leg”, or nonrevenue repositioning flight, has been the bane of commercial operators.

Over the years, the airlines, with their large fleets, multiple city pairs and integrated schedules, learned how to minimize the losses from their movement of empty seats. But for the business jet charter segment, with its small fleets and paper-thin profit margins, deadheading has often represented a money-losing curse. “The whole thing has a lot of history – empty legs have been around as long as charter has,” Jim Betlyon, president and owner of the Charter X Web site, observed. “We started listing them over 10 years ago, which has had some impact on the syndrome being elevated. . . .” Betlyon noted that today, charter operators “fly around at 32-percent empty.”

Traditionally, when their customers have needed to travel only one way, FAR Part 135 operators have attempted to cover their empty-leg expenses by convincing clients to purchase round-trips – or at least pay for a percentage of the return leg in order to get the aircraft back to home base in a timely fashion. And if an operator were miraculously able to sell the open leg to another customer, this was gravy. (To foster return business or simply promote good will to a frequent user, some operators might offer to share a percentage of the profit generated by selling the empty leg with the outbound customer or the broker that arranged the charter.) But until relatively recently, finding someone to purchase the dead leg was open to the vicissitudes of fortune, or simply being at the right place at the right time to pick up an ad hoc fare.

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