An air operator's certificate (AOC) is the approval granted by a national aviation authority (NAA) to an aircraft operator to allow it to use aircraft for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets and system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public. The certificate will list the aircraft types and registrations to be used, for what purpose and in what area - specific airports or geographic region.
AOCs can be granted for one or more of the following activities:
Low capacity operations is when operating aircraft with under 38 passenger seats, high capacity is above that.
An AOC is referred to as an Air Carrier Operating Certificate in the United States and as an Air Operator Certification in New Zealand.
Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand's Part 119 establishes Air Operator Certification rules for Air Transport Operations (ATO) and Commercial Transport Operations (CTO). They provide two levels of certification: (a) AOC for air operations in all sizes of aircraft; (b) general aviation AOC for air operations in helicopters and aircraft with nine or less passenger seats
According to the United States Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration is to maintain an airline air carrier's operating certificate in the category of fitness. An air carrier must maintain the following three standards: adequate financing, competent management, a willingness to comply with applicable laws and regulations. At least 75 percent of airlines controlling voting equity must be held by US citizens.
An AOC is valuable. It shows the relevant NAA's acceptance of the operator's personnel, infrastructure and procedures. In most jurisdictions[which?] an AOC may be sold or acquired to avoid the arduous process of gaining regulator acceptance for a new AOC. To this end, a failed airline can be sold as a going concern and then changed into another business. For example, Northwest Airlines bought FLYi airline's AOC to start Compass Airlines, now a feeder airline for Delta Air Lines marketed as Delta Connection. Likewise Strategic Airlines purchased the AOC, staff and routes of the failed OzJet airlines.