An airline that flew empty airplanes for several months?

There is an airline that flew its 124-seater airplane for several months without any passengers—this airline is British Mediterranean Airways (BMed) which stopped operating back in 2007! Flying empty airplanes reportedly cost the airline KRW 3 billion. Why did the airline choose to fly empty airplanes despite such huge loss?

Flying empty airplanes without passengers or cargo is called ferry flying. Curious about why an airline would fly its planes without transport, which is the main purpose of airplanes? Today, we would like to introduce to you the story of BMed while telling you about ferry flying. Let’s begin by looking at the purpose of ferry flying.

What is the purpose of ferry flying?

There are many reasons for ferry flying empty airplanes. Here are four main situations for airlines to operate ferry flying!

(1) Airplane maintenance

The first reason for ferry flying is airplane maintenance. For airplane maintenance, airplanes need to go to another base or hangar. In such cases, empty airplanes are flown out for maintenance work and the same goes for airplanes that have finished maintenance work! Final inspection is required to see if repairs are done correctly or if there are any problems, and as a test, empty airplanes are flown to inspect their functions.

(2) Importing and exporting airplanes

The second reason for ferry flying is importing and exporting airplanes. Empty airplanes are flown when imported or exported to another country. Ferry flying is how airplanes are delivered from an exporting country to an importing one.


(3) Maintaining pilots’ qualification

Third, ferry flying is done to maintain pilots’ qualification. Pilots are required to take off and land airplanes periodically to maintain their qualification.

For instance, a pilot for large 500-seater A380 aircrafts must have at least three take-offs and landings within the past 90 days. However, as it became difficult for A380 pilots to maintain their qualification due to COVID-19, Asiana Airlines recently flew empty airplanes despite the heavy cost per flight. While it is possible to maintain qualification through flight simulators, only Korean Air has one A380 simulator among Korea’s airlines, and they say it is barely enough for their training.

(4) Air charter or special flights

The last reason is air charter or special flights. Empty airplanes are flown when they come back after transporting passengers to the destination or go to pick up passengers.

Do you remember that Korea recently sent air charter airplanes to other countries due to COVID-19? In March, the Vietnamese government suddenly banned airplanes departing from Korea from landing in Hanoi Airport, and an airplane from Asiana Airlines returned all of a sudden. In the end, Korean airlines conducted ferry flying to get there to pick up stranded Korean passengers in Vietnam. Since the country sent air charter airplanes to Italy and New Zealand, there must have been several ferry flights, right? J

Why did BMed conduct ferry flying for several months?

Let’s get back to BMed. What caused BMed to conduct ferry flying for several months is when a flight route from London to Tashkent, Uzbekistan was shut down. As the flight route bound for Tashkent was shut down, it sent empty airplanes to Cardiff near the UK! There was a special reason, not part of the four reasons we mentioned above.

London’s Heathrow Airport had the largest number of international passengers until 2015 to the extent that flights took off and landed on a minute basis. It is one of the airports where it is difficult to get a new flight route and secure a slot, which is a time on a certain day allocated for take-offs and landings.

Once secured, the slot can be only maintained when it is used more than 80% of the time and unless the airline does not give it up. As the flight route bound for Tashkent was shut down, other airlines eyed on this empty slot. BMed continued ferry flying to protect its slot despite the huge cost—as much as six times a week!

We have so far talked about ferry flying empty airplanes. How was it? Isn’t it surprising not only to know that empty airplane are flown but also the various reasons behind it? Next time, we will come back with airplane knowledge as interesting as ferry flying! J

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