While flying on private planes is a routine part of life for artists and executives, the deaths of music stars in airplane accidents have been frequent enough to merit their own tragic chapter of music lore. Most recently, the fatal crash of a Learjet carrying regional Mexican singer Jenni Rivera and members of her entourage after a concert in Mexico quickly brought to light questions about the plane's operator that gave chillingly literal meaning to the description of a company as "fly by night."

"This is a cautionary tale," says aviation expert Mark Schmaltz, who has been hired by lawyers in a suit brought by the families of those who perished onboard with Rivera against the company that owned the plane, its previous owner and Jenni Rivera Enterprises. Schmaltz, a pilot and CEO of Dreamline Aviation, a California-based charter company, shared with Billboard some basic smarts for hiring a private jet.

Get recommendations. Ask a frequent flier. "Think of it like any other professional service," Schmaltz says. "If you need an attorney or accountant, what you're typically going to do is talk to a friend."

Research their record. There's no reason today to fly blind about the safety record of a charter operator plane, pilot or crew, Schmaltz notes. Wyvern's Safety Intelligence Report provides what its website calls "a robust template of meaningful expectations for safe flight," including certificates, licenses and insurance. Operators with a Wyvern Wingman rating have been audited and are held to a high standard of inspection (wyvernltd.com). ARGUS International's widely recognized CHEQ charter operator rating certification and other programs allow air service customers to "make informed decisions and manage risk" (aviationresearch.com). "Those two companies have set even higher standards than the [Federal Aviation Administration] sets," Schmaltz says.

Resist a bargain. "Flying in private planes is ridiculously expensive," Schmaltz says. "Most [operators] are always looking for ways to reduce that cost." Charter companies may offer incentive programs for regular customers, but newcomers should be wary of anyone courting them with a dramatically reduced fee. "The offer of a really low-cost alternative should be a red flag," he warns. "The only way you can do it is to cut a corner and when that happens, anything goes."