A few weeks ago, Allegiant Air announced it was buying six used Airbus A319s from Cebu Pacifc Air. Airlines do these transactions all the time, but it got me wondering. How do you get six small airplanes from Manila to the United States?
Recently, I asked Robert Neal, Allegiant's director of fleet planning, how Allegiant plans to fly the A319s, which can only go about 6 hours 30 minutes without refueling, to Tampa, where the airplanes will be altered to the airline's specifications.
Here's what Neal told me.
Brian Sumers: How many stops will the A319s make between the Philippines and Tampa?
Robert Neal: In this case, the previous operator will move the A319s and the A320s from Manila to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, the aircraft will make three stops on its way to Tampa Florida.
We are currently considering the following routing: [Manila]>Hong Kong>Tokyo Narita >Anchorage>Fargo, North Dakota>Tampa. Once the aircraft arrive in Tampa, we will complete FAA required modifications, and other conformity items so that the aircraft are configured the same as other A320 family aircraft in our fleet.
Who will be flying the plane from Hong Kong to Tampa?
These airplanes are not moved by Allegiant flight crews. The aircraft are moved to the U.S. by either the leasing company or the previous owner.
How do you choose where the plane stops?
There are a couple of things to consider. Our first priority is of course to provide the most direct routing to the induction [maintenance facility]. After we have an idea of what the most direct routing is, we look for the most convenient and economical places for the aircraft to stop for fuel. We have to consider fuel price and available aircraft services such as maintenance, cleaning, and catering for flight crews.
How many days does the trip take?
This will depend on the routing but our planned routing will be about three days of flying. The pilots need to be in position 1-2 days prior to departure so that they can adjust to changes in the time zone before flying such a long distance and have adequate rest.
What's the longest leg?
The longest leg on our currently planned routing will be Tokyo to Anchorage (2,975 nm). This routing wouldn’t be possible for an A319 or A320 with passengers on board but because the aircraft is flying empty (in some cases without seats), it can travel much farther with full fuel tanks.
How do you decide whether to bring the planes to the U.S. with or without seats?
This depends on the terms of the transaction. Our preference would be for these to fly without seats because we will replace all of the seats when they arrive in the US anyway. We would rather sell the seats before the ferry if we can, but that’s not always the case. I do expect all of the aircraft coming from the Philippines to arrive in the US without seats. For our aircraft coming from Europe, we try to have our new seats fitted over in Ireland or the UK before the airplane crosses the Atlantic (the seats are manufactured in the UK).
Do you add extra fuel tanks for the flights?
No, we haven’t done this in the past. Sometimes, we have to take less direct routings, but it hasn’t been required for B757 or A320 family aircraft in my experience.
How many pilots are required for the trip? Do you use more than two, so they can fly more in a compressed time period?
We typically use just two pilots and one aircraft maintenance technician or engineer. For airplanes coming from Europe, they have the option to stop and spend the night in Bangor, Maine but they almost always choose to proceed to Florida or Texas where our induction work is completed. For the aircraft coming over from Manilla, the pilots will need two full nights of rest and we will plan for them to have three nights. We will assume that they move the aircraft to Tokyo, spend the night, then go on to Anchorage, spend the night and then fly to Fargo, spend the night and do a quick flight from Fargo to Tampa the next day. The pilots will have the option to go past Tokyo into Anchorage and then spend the night there. If they do that, they could also fly Anchorage-Fargo-Tampa in one day.
Have you ever been on one of these flights? What are they like?
I’ve been on board for a few of these movements. It’s fun for the first few minutes and then you are three hours into a six and half hour flight and you’re bored. The only food/drink you have is what brought on board. As you would imagine, these flights don’t have any wi-fi or IFE. You could to try to sleep on in a slimline seat if you want. The cabin is usually pitched very tightly as configured by the previous operator.
One of our lessors has told me that he’s arranged for some of the transaction teams from other airlines to be on board these flights in the past. He claims that he arranged a bowling tournament during the flight where the passengers bowl down the aisle into the aft galley. He provided amenity bags for the individuals on board and used the aircraft sound system to play music. He basically put on a customer appreciation event during the delivery ferry. I guess we’re kind boring because we never do any of these things.
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