It seems that one of the branches of Murphy’s Law, Aviation Division, takes great glee in occasionally causing an aircraft and its owner to be geographically separated under circumstances where the owner needs outside help to achieve reunification. That’s where aircraft delivery companies can make aeronautical life much easier for owners. Whether your machine needs to be moved a few hundred miles or halfway around the world, there are companies that exist to provide that service.
Aircraft delivery services are not regulated, so anyone with at least a commercial pilot certificate can offer to ferry airplanes. In preparing this article we found more than 40 companies offering aircraft delivery services. We called and/or emailed a representative sample and spoke with companies that routinely need aircraft delivered. From our research, we put together some guidelines as to how to approach arranging for a professional service to ferry your airplane, what you should expect from that service and what you can expect it to cost.
We recognize that informal ferrying of airplanes goes on all the time—your mechanic is on a field 30 miles away and it’s time for your airplane’s annual. Your friend Mary has the same type and she’s flown your airplane with you. You can’t get away from work so you ask Mary to fly your airplane to the shop. She agrees and arranges to have someone drive over and pick her up. Routine, right?
Yes. But. You and Mary may be putting yourselves at some degree of risk—financial in your case, FAA violation in hers. Before Mary flies your airplane, you need to make sure that you’re covered under your insurance policy if she has a bird strike during the flight and the airplane is damaged.
From Mary’s perspective, she’s doing you a favor, but she’s also getting free flying time (unless she pays for the full cost of the ferry flight) and the FAA long ago ruled that free flying time is “compensation” under FAR Parts 61.113 and 61.133, so she has to hold at least a commercial pilot certificate to make the flight. (One of the FAA’s interpretation letters on the subject is available here.) Yes, we know, her chances of getting a violation are low. Unless something goes wrong—and then she and you are going to be dealing with seemingly endless red tape from your insurer and the FAA.
Accordingly, we recommend doing some thinking before having your airplane repositioned by someone else. For even the simplest move of a dozen miles we recommend that you make sure the pilot has experience in the same type, meets your insurance requirements and has at least a commercial pilot certificate.
Aircraft delivery service companies advertise on the internet and in various aviation publications. Companies will provide a preliminary quote over the telephone and many have websites that will generate a preliminary quote once you provide information about the airplane, where it is, where it needs to go and when. The quote should reflect the cost of getting the pilot to the airplane and back home after the ferry flight, the fee for the pilot—figure a bare minimum of $250 per day—going up as the complexity of the airplane and trip increases—fuel for the airplane, meals and lodging for the pilot and some percentage for the company for the cost of coordinating the ferry.
In talking with delivery services we found that some specialize in certain types of aircraft. For example, Sarah Rogner, proprietor of Full Throttle Aviation, said her company focuses on tailwheel, vintage, experimental and ag aircraft.
Other companies specialize in international deliveries where the paperwork can be dauntingly complex and the airplane may need a ferry tank or tanks installed to carry enough fuel for the trip. The owners of Wings of Eagles Aircraft Delivery, Dala and Larry Newsome, told us that they consider themselves a problem-solving business—they primarily do international ferry flights and take care of everything involved with getting the airplane moved.
As we researched this article we were surprised at the number of companies that advertised aircraft delivery services that did not return telephone calls, respond to emails or had full voice mailboxes. Fully half of the companies we reached out to either did not respond or could not be reached. Getting three or four quotes for ferry services for your airplane may require a little patience.
Once you have sorted through the preliminary quotes it’s time to talk details with each service so that you can assure yourself that all insurance needs are met, the pilot is appropriately experienced, will fly the airplane in accordance with your wishes and is backed by a company that can be relied on to keep you advised of progress and take care of problems that may arise. In addition, the company can learn about you, your airplane, its history and condition and your preferences in operating it.
Aaron Kahn, the proprietor of FlyIt4U, told us that this conversation allows him to fine tune his preliminary quote to meet the special requirements of the owner as it affects the planned route, number of stops, time en route, fuel costs and expected expenses.
We came away from our interviews with delivery company owners beleiving that it is important for the aircraft owner to fully understand what a delivery service can and cannot do so that there are no surprises if there’s a problem during the delivery.
Many delivery services also offer to do prepurchase examinations of an airplane for a prospective owner and then deliver it if the sale goes through. Some have A&P mechanics on staff, others have working relationships with maintenance technicians around the country. If you are considering buying an airplane that is across the country, an aircraft delivery service may be a one-stop shop for the prebuy and delivery.
In addition, some delivery services advertise that they will either have one of their pilots who is a flight instructor ride with you and check you out in the airplane as part of the delivery process or deliver the airplane to you and then check you out in it.
Once you have the detailed quote and decide to move forward, you should expect to receive a contract for the ferry flight. Look it over carefully and make certain it reflects the agreement you think you made. There is no standard delivery contract; each of the companies creates its own. Sarah Rogner of Full Throttle Aviation explained that it took time and money to come up with a contract that allowed for the variables involved in ferry flying as she and her company have experienced it. She, and others, told us that the company and the pilot have to be prepared for anything from a routine trip to showing up and discovering that the airplane described by the owner as pristine is an unairworthy loose assembly of parts.
The contract should explain what you will pay if all goes according to plan and any additional costs that you will face if the airplane breaks or weather interferes with progress.
While most delivery companies can respond very quickly to move an airplane—we heard one story of a company getting a pilot to an airplane the day after the owner’s buddy had abandoned it in the middle of a ferry flight—we were told that most of the time the company and its pilot will watch weather forecasts and do the ferry flight when it appears there will be a weather window that minimizes the risk of delay once started.
Once the pilot gets to the airplane you should expect that he or she will do a very detailed preflight, note any squawks and inform you. Live chat and cellphone video have greatly simplified solving problems found on the preflight, especially when the airplane is not in the condition the owner claimed. The ferry pilot, as PIC, has the last word regarding whether he or she will fly the airplane in its current condition.
You should receive regular reports of progress—at the very least a text after each landing and before each takeoff. Some companies use SPOT trackers so the customer can track the flight in real time.
You should also expect the ferry pilot to treat your airplane as his or her own. Kasey Lindsay, one of the owners of Northwest Backcountry Aviation, an American Champion and Maule dealer, told us that when his company pays to have an airplane ferried it is when it is coming new from the factory. He said that he wants the airplane to arrive in as nearly perfect condition as possible, so the ferry pilot should do all the little and big things that help keep the airplane pristine such as avoiding runups on surfaces that risk damage to the paint on the prop and hangaring the airplane each night.
The route is at the discretion of the pilot; however, in our conversations with delivery companies we were told that the pilot keeps cost to the owner in mind. They will try to select airports where fuel is less expensive, although as Aaron Kahn of FlyIt4U said, “The airports with the cheapest fuel tend to have the fewest services.” That matters if the airplane breaks or if it’s the end of the flying day and the pilot has to find transportation to food and lodging.
All of the delivery companies we spoke with said that their delivery flying is limited to daylight operations. In the summer pilots try to fly eight to nine hours each day. As the days grow shorter, so does the time spent in the air.
Once the airplane arrives we think that you should receive a written list of squawks noted during the trip as well as some sort form of log with information on each leg including time, power setting, altitude, fuel flow and fuel burn and all pertinent receipts.
Bad WX or Broken Airplane
While aircraft delivery companies told us they do their best to plan ahead and take advantage of forecast good weather windows so as to avoid weather delays and it’s uncommon for an airplane to break during a ferry flight—the world doesn’t always go according to plan.
What happens if the weather does close in or your airplane breaks partway through the delivery? Specifically, are you going to be paying a daily rate, motel and meals for a pilot who is sitting on the ground? Are you obligated to pay for expensive repairs at a shop you don’t know to get the airplane on its way?
The answer to the “what if something happens during the delivery” question should be absolutely clear to you and the delivery company—in writing—before the ferry pilot goes to pick up the airplane. In our conversations with delivery companies we were told that the delivery contract specifies who is responsible for what should the delivery be delayed by weather or maintenance issues.
The policies of the companies differed slightly, although the common thread was that the pricing builds in a little pad that allows for delays, the delivery companies will usually eat the cost of weather delays and the owner usually is charged for the cost of maintenance delays.
Delivery companies told us that they do not want their pilots to be under pressure to go in marginal weather so if they quote a flat rate for the delivery the price includes an allowance for a short weather delay (to protect themselves). They do not charge the owner anything for the time the pilot can’t fly due to weather and they work hard to make the flight when they think the weather will cooperate.
When it comes to a maintenance delay, all of the companies we spoke with said that the owner is charged for the pilot’s downtime and per diem. There are some ferry companies that employ pilots who are also A&Ps, but it’s not common. You should expect that if there is a problem, the pilot will stay engaged, get the airplane to a shop on the airport, be present for troubleshooting and involved in the loop with you as you make decisions regarding needed parts and maintenance.
In an era of overnight parts delivery an AOG situation can often be resolved within a day. We do recommend that you specify that all stops during the delivery be made at an airport with maintenance services. We’ve ferried airplanes and had them break.
The delivery services we spoke with said that they have worked with owners where a maintenance problem involved getting a ferry permit to move the airplane to a location where it could be fixed. They also told us that should there be a serious problem that cannot be fixed quickly—one mentioned an engine condition requiring overhaul before further flight—the pilot will work with the owner to get the airplane secured appropriately and then return home, bringing that particular delivery agreement to an end.
When a ferry pilot arrives to find the aircraft is not airworthy, the companies we spoke with said that they will immediately advise the owner and get a decision as to what the owner wants to do. Most of the time the owner directs that needed repairs be made and agrees to pay for it. Sarah Rogner of Full Throttle Aviation told us that her company’s practice is that if the owner declines to have the airplane fixed she will return home and refund the customer’s money minus the costs she has incurred.
We recommend that if you need to have your airplane moved any distance that you make use of an aircraft delivery company to assure the process goes smoothly and that problems that may crop up are solved quickly and efficiently because they’ve probably seen it before.
Nevertheless, the companies are not regulated, so it’s caveat emptor—do all that you can prior to the flight to get all of your questions answered, make certain the airplane is insured appropriately, understand clearly what the company will and will not do and what it will cost you.