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Based on this question Avoiding crew fatigue on empty leg flights I learned that there are "empty leg" flights or "ferry flights".

These seem a good option but I would like to know more about them.

Where are these announced? How can one travel this way?

  • 2
    There are lots of them on the net with a google search, but you have to pay more than the cost of a first class ticket. Are you looking for free or near free? Also is it scoped to Europe? – Gayot Fow Jun 27 '15 at 19:53
  • How would you propose to get on a non-revenue flight which is for specific to repositioning of an aircraft? Unless of course someone from an airline will let you know. – Karlson Jun 28 '15 at 2:22
  • @GayotFow for now I am looking to know more about it. When I do I can evaluate if these fit any purpose to me or not. In principle they would be for Europe, but not necessarily. The price of something is different from its value. Cheap / expensive are relative depending on departure or destination and time you have. – nsn Jun 28 '15 at 18:59
14

Private Aircraft

Others have answered for the commercial and chartered sectors, which is increasingly being strangled due to regulation. This answer will focus on the private sector.

Where are these announced?

The short answer is they are not announced, at least publicly like on a web site. Any kind of advertising or public communication kicks them into the charter or commercial spheres. When you know that a private pilot is planning to fly, you can ask if he wants to take you along. It's that simple.

Meeting people and making personal contact replaces the internet. I think it's OK to exchange emails with somebody who already knows you and met you personally or through a club, but they are not going to warm up to somebody out of the blue. Also in terms of 'where are these announced', some discretion can be in order. If you go around identifying your contacts by name on your Facebook page, it may not be appreciated and you're likely to find your emails unanswered after that.

If you know something is on a pilot's bucket list, like flying a Nanchang CJ-6 (a vintage two seater on many dream bucket lists), you can keep your eyes open for that kind of opportunity. Whatever gets you talking to pilots and in the air is key towards empty leg travel.

Another example... In 2018, there will be a competition to fly around the world in Bristol Bulldogs. For people who live on the route and are aware that Bulldogs need to land for maintenance and fuel at the drop of a hat, there's an opportunity to offer some hospitality and a quick tour of your city.

A really great calling card is the ability to speak different languages and to let people know you're happy to translate. I have also done pet-sitting, baby-sitting, driving, tour guiding, and cabin clean up/dish-washing. Having multiple passports also gives you a slight edge because you don't face visa issues.

How can one travel this way?

Some important things to point out about this...

  • Timing. If you haven't done it before, it's not going to happen overnight unless you're very lucky. It takes a long time to get oriented and to establish yourself as an enthusiast.

  • Flexibility. You don't always go exactly when you want and where you want. Instead, you go where the pilot is going and that may leave you with additional transportation to reach your destination - or even stranded for a while. For example, a flight into Heathrow or Gatwick would be extraordinarily rare; the general case is they are headed for a private airport like Cotswold or even as far out as Humberside. There are about 20 - 25 airports in the greater London area and home counties, but not every type of plane is cleared for their type of strip(s). On the plus side and if you are younger, being 'stranded' at some random field gives the opportunity to hang around the terminal and meet pilots who might be flying to some place else (note: I never went 'total gypsy' myself, but have spoken with people who managed to hop respectable distances over the course of say, a year; others have found that the demands of being flexible became unpleasant as they got older).

  • Regulations. It's getting worse and worse. Airpooler is now moribund because of US regulations. BlackJet was supposed to have Uber's business model, but now appears to be offering very expensive pay-only arrangements to avoid being shut down. And the EU has jumped in with stricter interpretation of Regulation 965/2014, which is making some pilots reluctant to do anything at all unless they know you well.

How to learn more about it? In comments, you wrote you're looking to know more about it...

The best way to find out more is to join local aviation clubs and read aviation magazines oriented to private pilots. A simple Google search 'aviation clubs near London' returned two pages of results. I am in two for example.

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Source: Club event at Rochester Airport, Kent, fair use

For aviation magazines, I can suggest "Pilot Getaways" (mostly US audience), "Pilot Magazine (UK version)" (UK general interest), "Plane and Pilot", (US, mixes private and business, more technical).

Some other helpful entry points...

  • You can attend events and festivals, like the annual one at Shobdon Field where anybody can go and enjoy the event while expressing enthusiasm for the sport.

  • You can be a volunteer in Project Orbis, or raise donations in a challenge event. The Corporate Angel Network also takes in volunteers for data entry (with no direct path to flying) but leading to a wealth of knowledge about flight schedules, pilots, fractional owners, private car operators, airports, and all the rest.

  • Check out newly converted or upgraded airports like Conington. Check out their engineering and repair facilities, what kinds of certifications they offer. Even Wifi and broadband. It's all useful knowledge.

Finally, having some kit, like a Delorme Communicator or a Zulu class headset can be a tremendous help. Certainly the pilot will have his own, but it helps to establish you as a serious enthusiast who uses his own stuff.

12

Corporate/Business Aircraft

For corporate aircraft, this is a common occurrence and there have indeed been attempts to utilise these legs. A quick search on Google for empty legs turns up plenty of results. I came across two companies called flyvictor and returnjet that offered a bunch of flights from all spots in Europe.

Another similar possibility is getting a ticket for an extra seat on corporate jets that are not 'ferry flights' but simply have extra capacity. This article ("How to fly on a private jet for under $200 per person") might interest you.

Note:

  • They are 'opportunist' in nature. There is no guarantee a flight will turn up for your desired route, and/or there will be a return flight.

  • The company will always try and sell a flight like a normal charter if possible.


Commercial Aircraft

For commercial airlines, ferry flights are avoided as far as possible. They are (in principle) nothing but money down the drain. You will encounter ferry flights:

  • When you need to move the aircraft for maintence.

    • British Airways run a facility in Cardiff for maintaining among others their huge fleet of Boeing 747s.
    • Austrian Airlines run a facility in Bratislava, requiring a 20-minute hop for aircraft due for maintence from Vienna.
  • When stuff messes up, most notably breakdowns. For instance, an mechanical breakdown at a remote airport followed by ferrying the aircraft back once repaired.

The issue is that:

  • These flights are often at strange and/or irregular times.
  • Occasionally crewed by only cockpit crew and no flight attendants.

As such, there is little incentive for airlines to let passengers along even (if it may legally possible). The cost, time, paperwork and extra staff would most probably not pay off for the low number of passengers that could be expected.

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