How Do Airlines Deliver Airplanes Long Distances? (Ask Cranky)

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Ask Cranky post, so I figured we were long overdue. Here’s a question that I imagine a lot of people are curious about.

If you ever have the time, can you please write a blog about how airplanes get from factory to their new owners hub? I found via Google a blog that addresses things like 747 and A340 type planes getting delivered but what about somehting not as long range like a 737? If SAA wants a 737 how does it get from Seattle to Jo’burg?

Believe it or not, a 737 isn’t that big of a deal. The original version didn’t have much range, but today 737s can fly far. They can fly even further when they don’t have a full load of passengers, as is usually the case on delivery flights. I actually had an invite to go on a delivery flight for RwandAir last year and I was so sad that I couldn’t make it. Fortunately, David Parker Brown over at took the trip and put together a 4m19s video on the :

In general, crossing the Atlantic isn’t a big deal for aircraft deliveries. There are airports that you can use to hopscotch across the north. St John’s in Canada (which actually has scheduled A319 service to London because it’s so far east) is only 1,600 miles from Keflavik in Iceland (and Greenland is there in an emergency). Goose Bay is 100 miles closer if they need the range. And Keflavik is only 840 miles from Glasgow. So even small airplanes can generally make these hops on delivery flights.

The mighty Pacific, however, is a whole different story. There is a lot of unfriendly territory between Alaska and many Asian countries, so aircraft will sometimes just go the long way around through Europe in a delivery. But one of the more difficult places to deliver an aircraft to is actually . . . Hawai’i. Sounds strange, but there is absolutely nothing that could be remotely used for a landing (unless you’re Capt. Sully and First Officer Skiles) between the west coast of the mainland US and Hawai’i. San Francisco to Hilo is probably the shortest route and that’s over 2,300 miles. It’s no problem for a current generation 737, but what about those interisland aircraft that hop around all day?

When Hawaiian decided to replace its DC-9s with 717s, it had to figure out a way to get them to Hawai’i. The range on the 717 isn’t quite enough so they had to get creative. Here’s a photo of a for the long flight over. That did the trick.

Long story short, there’s always a way to make it happen whether it means going the long way around to make a bunch of stops or installing extra fuel tanks to get some extra range. Hopefully I’ll be invited on another delivery flight one of these days so I can give you a view of this up close and personal.

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