Low cost ferry pilot
UPDATE 5/7/2013: I updated this post to remove a picture of an aircraft that ran out of fuel and crashed in Greenland because I’ve received numerous offensive/insulting/threatening emails from the pilot of said aircraft. I simply don’t have the time or desire to deal with this person. At risk of stating the obvious, this post was never intended to be about any other ferry pilot, only about the fact that ferry pilots are often asked to take unnecessary risks and the unfortunate reality that some pilots are willing to do so just to save a buck for their customer. Please check your ferry pilot’s references!
I’m not the most expensive nor the cheapest ferry pilot, I charge about the same as other professional and reputable ferry pilots. I’m not saying that a person who charges $300 per day is a better or safer pilot than the one who charges $200 per day, or that the pilot who charges $4,000 for an Atlantic ferry flight is a safer pilot than the pilot who charges $2,000 for the same ferry flight, only that I charge what is fair and allows me to reasonably provide for my family.
Having said that, I’ve turned down quite a few flights over money-issues lately. Not so much over what I charge for my time as a ferry pilot, but typically the conflict is over flight expenses.
Accidents – often fatal – do happen in our business, such as this one or this one. I didn’t know either of these pilots but as far as I’ve heard they were both good people and conscientious pilots. There should be no reason they lost their lives and their families lost a loved one over doing a job.
Speaking in general terms, not to be specific about the cause of any particular accident, BUT in my opinion you cannot rule out the pressures of delivering an aircraft in less time and for less money as contributing factors in many ferry flight accidents.
I won’t have any part of it. Again, I’m not above making a mistake, but if someone wants me to do a flight and will not afford me the flexibility or budget to do the flight as safe, comfortable and correctly as possible – I simply won’t take the flight.
Here are some typical things ferry pilots are asked to do to keep costs down:
- Charts and databases: I’m asked sometimes: “you just did a ferry flight last month, why don’t you use those charts?”.
- Survival gear: it’s expensive and cumbersome and we never plan to use it. But it’s required and if you ever did need it…
- Fuel: buy less fuel or carry fuel in the baggage compartment to avoid paying more at higher priced airports.
- Route of flight: the accident databases are filled with ferry flight accidents due to fuel starvation (such as the picture above). I’m often asked to take a more direct route of flight that might save 3 hours of flight time but doesn’t afford me a comfortable fuel reserve.
- Winds and weather: this is probably the biggest one. In the Artic you’ll easily pay $250 per person per day for hotels and meals, so nobody wants to get delayed, but you really can’t rush into winds or weather over the ocean in a light airplane.
I have a lot of stories. A while back I saw a ferry pilot take off out of Bangor in a Cessna 206 direct to the Azores, literally overflying a perfectly good fuel stop 700 miles enroute at St. Johns. He may have saved $500 in handling fees and less expensive avgas, but to me it wouldn’t be worth the extra risk of extreme overweight takeoff and less fuel reserves. Maybe if I had no choice, if someone was shooting at me, but nobody was shooting, the pilot was just trying to save $500 for the owner of a $500,000+ airplane.
Most of the things we’re asked may not pose an immediate safety risk but do reduce the margin of safety a bit for no reason other than money. Think about it, flying a light aircraft over oceans, into the Artic or halfway across the globe is a challenging task. To take away any margin of safety at all for the sake of flight expenses is nonsense.
How much is my fee as a ferry pilot?
For most trips I charge a daily rate for my time plus expenses. For most Atlantic ferry flights, the fee for my time is a flat-rate fee, so you don’t have to worry about paying extra in case of weather or other minor operational delays.
For aircraft expenses, on most trips I will charge the actual expenses as incurred during the ferry flight. I provide an estimated budget prior to the trip and at the end of the trip I provide an accounting of the actual expenses.
I prefer not to charge a flat (fixed) rate for the expenses but charge actual expenses as incurred. The reason for this is so that in the case of weather delays I don’t feel pressured due to lack of funds (if you provide a cut-rate quote) but at the same time I don’t charge my customer any more than what the actual expenses are.
Some of my ferry pilot pictures: