Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ferry Flying As A Career?

It’s not the glamorous life everyone thinks it is

The type requirement alone is enough to stop some pilots cold. By the time many pilots accumulate 500 hours, they’ve usually flown a half-dozen types.

Twin time is especially difficult to come by, and turbine hours are almost impossible to amass unless you know someone who owns a turboprop or jet.

When I started ferrying in 1977, I was fortunate in that writing pilot reports for Plane & Pilot and other magazines guaranteed that my flight hours were spread over at least 100 types of aircraft (now up to 305). This meant I could usually qualify for most of the types I was asked to fly.

3) In 1977, there were many companies in the ferry business, and I flew part-time for one of the largest, Globe Aero of Lakeland, Fla. I left Globe in 1990 and now operate my own company, Bear Air International (which consists mostly of just me). Today, there are only a handful of companies in the ferry business, and the number of experienced aviators with type and route qualifications far outstrips the need for new pilots.

I hear from pilots all the time who imagine that ferry flying must be the most glamorous of time-builders toward the magic 1,500-hour ATP level often demanded by the airlines. Yes, you can build time in a hurry if there are airplanes available to ferry and you can somehow become qualified to fly them, but there’s rarely anything glamorous about the job. You’re sometimes flying with temporary HF radios occupying the right seat—assuming you still have a right seat (it’s often replaced by a ferry tank). You usually can’t carry passengers even if you want to, as the airplane may be tanked with ferry fuel and operating under a special airworthiness certificate that allows “essential crew only.” Not very glamorous.

If you think about it, the reasons for the limitations are obvious. We’re often operating 1,000 pounds or more over gross, not the greatest fun you can have in a little airplane. Because the goal is to make a profit, not have an if-it’s-Thursday-this-must-be-Paris vacation, our airplanes usually carry enough fuel for 15 to 20 hours of endurance, and we often fly the longest legs possible, usually into the cheapest destinations. These are places where fuel, hotels and landing fees are the lowest. They tend not to be the destinations most pilots envision.

On a ferry to Australia, for example, Hawaii is a guaranteed stop, but we usually fly into Hilo rather than Honolulu (it’s cheaper). Then, it’s on to Majuro in the Marshall Islands in turbine equipment (no avgas available) or Christmas Island, Kiribati, in pistons. After that, it’s usually on to Pago Pago, American Samoa, or Honiara, Solomon Islands—neither is known as a hot spot for glamour and night life. After that, it’s on to Noumea on the eastern route; Brisbane on the more direct western route.


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