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Fuel

September 8, 2014

A young man approached me at an airport in England recently, we talked a bit while we were kicking the tires – tyres as they say in England – of the airplane I was picking up. He said he’d hate to see the old airplane leave but he understood, the market in Europe prefers newer single-engine airplanes over piston twins, plastic fuselages over welded steel tubes. We talked about the planned ferry flight that would take the 50-year old Piper Aztec “home” to the US and the young man pulled up a picture on his phone, saying since I knew a bit about Atlantic ferry flights that he wanted my opinion.

The man is a pilot and mechanic, in truth he didn’t need my opinion, he knew very well. The picture he showed me was this. He said he’d personally taken the picture in the cockpit of a Piper Matrix that had just landed from an Atlantic ferry flight, not something he had obtained secondhand. The Piper Matrix had departed from Canada and crossed the Atlantic directly, without ferry tanking or HF radio. When the airplane landed, the fuel gauges looked like this:

Piper Matrix fuel gauge

Fuel display of a Piper Matrix that very nearly became another fuel exhaustion ferry flight accident

I looked up the flight path and the aircraft’s registration online a few days later. The aircraft registration shows up in the “testimonials” section on the website of a well known con artist / wannabe ferry pilot, a pilot who has previously crashed an aircraft in Greenland due to fuel starvation.

Most pilots who fly long-range flights have run into situations where they landed with less fuel than they were happy with. Weather, diversions, ATC delays, mechanical issues, or other situations beyond your control are the reason you carry plenty of fuel reserve. Sadly, good pilots have lost their lives due to exceedingly adverse and unexpected conditions. That was not the case for this Piper Matrix, the pilot knowingly or ignorantly planned a flight well beyond the safe range of the airplane just to save a few bucks. Had he run into any issues at all, he would have become another fuel exhaustion ferry flight accident. Had he been ramp checked, there would have been violations and fines. Had there been an accident the insurance company would have put up a fight not to pay out.

When you hire a ferry pilot, check their references. Don’t rely on “testimonials” on some website, ask previous customers and people who are familiar with ferry flying. I will be happy to provide references from previous customers and other pilots. If you don’t hire me, please hire another reputable ferry pilot.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2014 3:38 am

    Wow. Talk about cutting it close! And it’s not like you have a lot of diversion options once you’re past the PNR. I wonder if the guy is aware of how close he came to ending up in an accident report, or if he’s just convinced that “it will never happen to me”?

  2. September 8, 2014 11:51 am

    Ron: they’re in complete denial. If you look at the fuel totalizer (95 gals used and 8 gals remaining) you’d have to deduct that the pilot didn’t even completely fill the tanks prior to takeoff. Since the pilot flew direct from Canada to England (in violation of airspace/ HF communication requirements over the ocean), he had several options to land early in Ireland but apparently chose not to. As you say “it will never happen to me” – only, it already has: the same outfit crashed a Seneca V in Greenland due to fuel starvation.

    BTW – great pictures on your website.

  3. September 11, 2014 1:10 am

    Thanks for the kind words about the photos!

  4. JMTrumpet permalink
    June 1, 2017 6:53 pm

    There must have been one heck of a tailwind for him to have made it at all. In my opinion the “pilot” that did this has either a severe case of ADD (for which risk taking is a symptom), or he just has a plain (no pun intended) old death wish.

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