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Atlantic ferry flight checklist

August 12, 2011

On my most recent Atlantic ferry flight, halfway between Egilsstadir and Wick, my copilot Phil (and owner of the airplane) asked for a bottle of camelsweat, aka Gatorade. I reached around to the back seat of the pretty Maule M7 and grabbed a bottle of camelsweat.

“Last bottle”, I said.

Phil nodded and then shook his head in disbelief. When we got ready for the trip about 10 days earlier we had gone shopping for supplies at Walmart (where else). I grabbed an 8-pack or 12-pack of camelsweat and as I put it in the shopping cart I turned back and grabbed an additional big bottle of the stuff. Phil looked at me at the time and shook his head.

I get that reaction a lot when I go shopping before a ferry flight. I am often accompanied by the owner of the plane I’m flying, and they are generally astounded at how much drinks and snacks I buy. That combined with an email suggestion of a faithful reader inspired me to write an informal checklist of what to buy and get before an Atlantic ferry flight in a general aviation airplane.

Of course this is not the end-all be-all checklist of flying over the North Atlantic, just a reasonable checklist of what to get and what to do before a ferry flight over the North Atlantic in a typical single-engine airplane. Preparation is key to an easy and uneventful flight:

1) Walmart:

I don’t like Wally World any more than any other big box store, but you get the idea. Here’s the stuff I stock up on:

  • Drinks: get at least one drink per person per leg of the flight. You don’t really want to spend a lot of time at each stop trying to find a store/cafetaria or correct local change for the vending machine. Forget the carbonated sugary stuff. Water or Gatorade works best for me. The big Gatorade bottles also double as emergency bathroom 🙂
  • Chocolate and Snickers bars or the like. Sufficient for snacks and emergency supplies. If you’re going someplace warm (like Latin America) change chocolate for something that doesn’t melt 🙂
  • Peanuts or any other flavor nuts that spins your proverbial propeller.
  • Cereal bars.
  • Paper towels.

2) Airplane:

Now that we have the important stuff covered, let’s look at the airplane…

In all seriousness, it’s very important to make sure the airplane is ready for an Atlantic ferry flight. Too often people just assume they can take any airplane from the US or Canada and it will be ready for export and ferry flight. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the US and Canada may be the biggest General Aviation markets, most airplanes that are simply flown and maintained to US standards are not ready for export or Atlantic ferry flight. That does not mean the airplanes/standards are not as good, simply that there are different regulatory requirements based on ground infrastructure and the like in various parts of the world.

Again, not the end-all be-all list but here are some common things to check on your airplane before an Atlantic ferry flight or export:

  • Export Certificate of Airworthiness – unless you plan to continue flying under FAA registration.
  • US Customs aircraft export documents. This is often overlooked but legally required.
  • Valid registration for the ferry flight – I will do a post on this subject later, unfortunately many people assume they can fly an airplane with the previous owner’s registration certificate, that is simply not true.
  • Valid insurance, which is a legal requirement in Europe and many other areas, as well as a sensible thing to have. Ferry flight insurance is best bought as part of the annual policy that will cover the airplane in it’s new home country. Many insurance companies nowadays require a minimum of 5 previous Atlantic ferry flights for the ferry pilot.
  • Aircraft equipment: depending on requirements of your home country, you may need to install traditional ADF and DME. You may also need to install a 406Mhz ELT and mode-S transponder. This is true even if you intend to keep flying under FAA registration: you must comply with the operating requirements of the countries you fly in.
  • A good recent inspection. You don’t want to incur maintenance costs somewhere far away from home, plus it’s safe to assume if you’re exporting a US-made aircraft that any maintenance you need will be less expensive in the US than in your home country.
  • Ferry tank: most airplanes don’t need a ferry tank to cross the Atlantic, but if you do have a ferry tank, make sure you have it installed by a reputable shop who will give you correct FAA paperwork with validations for Canada or other countries that may require it.
  • HF radio: with few exceptions Atlantic ferry flight routes require HF radio. In most general aviation aircraft it makes more sense to fly the routes that DO NOT require HF radio (CYFB-BGSF-BIKF).

3) Survival equipment:

You must have the required survival equipment for the type airplane and route. Canada and Greenland both have specific requirements. Generally speaking you will need a raft, immersion suits and a survival kit. It’s also a good idea to carry a personal satelite ELT (EPIRB) and a satelite phone.

In addition to the minimum requirements, I usually carry some sleeping bags, extra flashlights, lighters, etc. I also carry a Walmart first-aid kit so that I don’t have to open my $350 sealed survival kit when someone bumpes their head on the wing of a Cessna.

It’s also important to bring some warm clothes, gloves, scarf, etc. Even in summertime you will see very cold temperatures over the North Atlantic. If the aircraft heater should fail, you must have some means to stay reasonably warm.

4) Pilot supplies / operational requirements:

Some really important items:

  • Paper charts: like it or not, you must have paper charts applicable to your route. Transport Canada can and will violate you if you don’t have appropriate charts.
  • Current avionics database: No ifs, ands or buts. If your avionics require a database, you must have the current dbase applicable to the route you are flying.
  • Valid licenses: make sure your ferry pilot meets all applicable recent experience requirements. Even if flying VFR, Transport Canada requires that the ferry pilot has a valid instrument rating, that also means meating the recent experience requirements.
  • Fuel pump: this is important if you plan to stop at some remote airports that may have fuel in drums and no pump. In Kuujjuaq (CYVP) you MUST bring your own pump if you plan to buy avgas 100LL.
  • Hat, sunglasses: flying over the Greenland icecap or a uniform cloud layer with sun on top…

Last but not least: Souvenirs for mamacita: don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs at each stop 🙂

Finally, make sure to pack light and leave out anything not needed for the flight. If you have spare parts or other airplane supplies that you don’t plan on using during the flight, send it home instead of packing it in the airplane baggage compartment. With few exceptions, most light airplanes will be near gross weight during an Atlantic ferry flight just with the weight of the fuel, pilots, supplies, survival gear, etc. You don’t want to load the airplane down with any unnecessary stuff, because you will often want to maximize altitude performance to avoid weather or take advantage of favorable winds during the flight.

If you have any suggestions or I have overlooked any items, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Putting on my immersion suit before the overwater legs

Putting on my immersion suit before the overwater legs

Pumping avgas from a drum in Kuujjuaq (CYVP)

Pumping avgas from a drum in Kuujjuaq (CYVP)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tron Nguyen permalink
    June 7, 2012 7:58 pm

    Ward, many thanx for the fascinating blog. I’ve read about privately owned ex-military jets like the L-39 and Alpha Jets flying in the US. Have you ever ferried one of these from Europe to North America (or vice versa)? How would your preparations perhaps differ if you were assigned to ferry ex-mil aircraft? P.S. I’m not a pilot so if my question falls under the “stupid” category, please go easy on me!

  2. June 25, 2014 3:15 pm



  3. Dave permalink
    July 30, 2016 3:15 pm

    I have done more than one domestic ferry flight. I have found it vital to draw up a check list of gear. You tick the needed items off as you stow them in your bags. A check list ensures that you do not overlook a vital item (it can happen). It also helps to prevent carrying nice to have items that can be done without. The checklist also prevents doubling up on kit.
    A few items from my check list. An alarm clock. A quality torch with fresh batteries. A screwdriver with Phillips and blade ends. Plastic bags for cockpit garbage. A cooler bag to carry my drink bottles, sandwiches and energy bars. I carry a bottle of coke and sip that occasionally to bump up my blood sugar levels. Blue Tac is good to keep a pen close handy and to pin a sheet of paper on the side window to block out unwanted sunlight. A paperback novel to read is a must to kill time when at an overnighter or to kill time and let the cloud lift. If your iPad tells you that it is ready to do an update then allow enough to time between the update and launch time to make sure no bugs have arrived with the update. I carry two cables and a cigarette lighter Jack to help keep power up on a serious cross country. Two cables? I found I had one fail on me on a long flight. I also pack a separate power pack to run my iPad independent from the aircraft power supply. Not every new or near new aircraft has a cigarette lighter/power outlet since smoking became unpopular.
    It is vital to plan the flight and then go over that plan several times before the departure. Consider the what-ifs, diversion, weather, mechanical issues with the aircraft. I draw up a mud-map with required radio frequencies on it to help having to open up and study charts in the air.
    Not having a passenger means that you can make decisions without having to explain why you did what to that passenger.
    If you need meds of any sort keep,them in your flight bag close at hand not in the bag in the bag locker.
    Before you get on board the aircraft slow down and think. Have I got all the kit that I need. Do I have required fuel and oil. Then have a slow walk around the machine to ensure that all the fuel caps and oil dip stick and hatches are secure. Is the baggage door secure and locked. Have the tie downs been removed, have the chicks been removed, it the pitot cover off, is the ignition key at hand and not in your pants pocket inside your flight suit.
    Considerations and a few tips.

  4. February 10, 2017 8:06 pm

    For a Maule, consider removing the back bench seat. Takes 15 minutes. Cuts down on weight; leaves more room for supplies and gear. You can sleep there too if need be.

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