Michael Schittenhelm of Ferry Flights International
"Ferry Flights are daunting. Even knowledgeable aviation people don't appreciate it's not a jolly flight!"
You are usually up before dawn and then fly at high altitude with no discernible ground features until the midday fuel stop – and then on again until evening. By the time you have spent three hours at the airport refuelling for the next day, paying up to five different kinds of fees at three different offices at the airport, you only see your hotel room late at night with the restaurant most likely shut at that time. The only sights you get to see are the airport and the airport hotel. The following days it's the whole thing all over again.
Sometimes (too often!) the aircraft has no working auto-pilot or radar – and they expect you to fly through the ITCZ. So we have to hand-fly all the way, with our free hand holding maps and charts or coffee. Every time we look up we are nearly upside down.
It takes years of flying experience to know when not to go on – from a mechanical or metrological point of view. The average death rate for ferry pilots is about 32 per annum worldwide because it's done by aircraft salesman and young hour building pilots.
Typical problems include running out of fuel, inadequate working cockpit resources, aircraft being abandoned by the crew for various reasons, having run out of money because of under-quoting the job, getting locked up because of clearance breaches and being grounded because of ‘faulty' aircraft documentation. Then there is the breaking of local laws for example by not having two hours fuel on landing at the Oceanic Islands. The list of problems and pitfalls goes on and on.
Breakdowns can be very hard to repair at remote airports and even the bigger airports have very limited general aviation support facilities.
Perhaps the worst part are the over flight and landing clearances – especially when you have to do at least two of those every day. Any change to the plan and it becomes a snowball of losing all your pre- planned clearances!
The trials and tribulations of flying through third world countries include bribes. If you are delayed due to mechanical, metrological or otherwise, you have to reapply for clearances which can take a week or more. Clearances are only valid for 24 to 72 hours. You get there too early or a day late and the authorities will want to impound your aircraft and extort ‘fines' in excess of US$10,000. Even in the civilised world you still have to worry about landing, overnight parking and take-off slots – even in low use airports!