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Ferrying Aircraft during COVID

The Ever-changing rules for pilots who move planes cross country and down south

March 4, 2021  By Phil Lightstone

Before the pandemic, Peter Zaccagnino would typically ferry aircraft to more than 30 countries per year. Photo: Peter Zaccagnino

Many General  and Business Aviation pilot/owners need to have aircraft ferried during COVID-19. Moving aircraft in a safe manner during a pandemic presents challenges, which are exacerbated by ever-changing regulations. The trip is much simpler if it’s a short flight between border cities like from Buttonville to Buffalo Niagara International (KBUF). Arranging ground transportation or a flight back to Toronto is more about logistics and cost. (This article includes information as of February 4, 2021, and is subject to change.) 

A longer ferry flight, such as Toronto to Miami, will be much more complicated, especially if weather or the aircraft’s speed does not allow the ferry flight to occur in a single day. Ferry pilot Peter Zaccagnino, explains, “I think that everyone is confused about the rules and requirements. There is a lot of demand to ferry CJ aircraft to Europe, but the challenges have to be balanced against the reward. Over the past 15 years, on average, I visited 33 countries per year ferrying aircraft. In 2020, I went to zero countries.”

Effective midnight February 3, 2021, in addition to proof of a negative pre-departure test, Transport Canada (TC) expanded its existing international flight restrictions to funnel scheduled international commercial passenger flights into four Canadian airports including Montréal-Trudeau International, Toronto Pearson International, Calgary International and Vancouver International for both the airlines and part 604 operators. The new restrictions include scheduled flights arriving from the U.S., Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, which were exempted from previous restrictions. Business and charter flights from all countries will also be required to land at the four airports listed above. Refer to NOTAM G0082/21 for additional information. Aircrew are exempt from quarantine requirements and COVID-19 testing. However, with the current level of confusion, some airlines may not allow aircrew returning to Canada to board their flight without a COVID-19 test conducted in their country.

The new NOTAM restrictions do not apply to aircraft operated in the following circumstances: Direct flight from Saint-pierre-et-miquelon; medevac; ferry and crew repatriation; cargo flights carrying only aircrew or airline employees; technical stops where passengers do not disembark; at an alternate airport identified in a flight plan to address weather; aircraft safety situations; or in the case where special authority has been granted by Transport Canada.


A crew member, as defined in subsection 101.01(1) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, relates to a person who is assigned to duty in an aircraft during flight time, or assigned to duty related to the operation of a remotely piloted aircraft system during flight time. By definition, a ferry pilot is one who is compensated for the trip, typically paid an hourly or daily per diem, inclusive of expenses (fuel purchases, landing fees, tie down, hanger, de-icing, hotel and food). This certainly sounds like the requirement for the pilot to hold a commercial rating. If the pilot is not being compensated, other than cost reimbursement, then a private pilot could ferry the aircraft.

There is a lot of confusion about the new rules, with more changes to come. Peter Campbell, director of external relations, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, in discussions with TC Aviation Security has confirmed that private pilots who are “transporting themselves” back to Canada from a foreign country do not qualify as “aircrew”. Under the aggregated orders, a private pilot (flying for leisure) will be required to: clear customs at the current entry airports and are not restricted to the above four airports; have an accredited PCR test, conducted within 72 hours prior to arrival into Canada at either the point of origin in the foreign state, or at the last overnight stay prior to arrival in Canada; quarantine for three days at a federal government approved hotel; and in Ontario quarantine for an additional 11 days at the final destination in Canada. Quarantine requirements (in addition to the federal three-day quarantine) varies by province. Private pilots on a leisure flight do not qualify for an exemption from the negative test requirement, as they are not deemed to be acting as aircrew. New Health Canada rules that came in mid-February apply to all aircraft operators, including private (recreational, not for hire) aircraft owners and operators.

From a ferry pilot’s perspective, Public Safety Canada defines “Air transportation employees, including pilots, flight attendants and flight crew, air traffic controllers, ramp personnel, aviation security, and aviation management” as essential service workers. To facilitate the process at the border, a letter of authorization (LoA) as an essential service worker is a recommended document for a freelance ferry pilot to have in hand. The LoA would come from the company employing the ferry pilot. For freelance ferry pilots new to the business, the acquisition of a LoA may be more challenging. Resourcefulness is part of the core DNA of most ferry pilots – at least the good ones. Anthony Norejko , CEO of Canadian Business Aviation Association, explains, “There can be confusion with the local CBSA officials as to how the rules apply to business aviation operators, especially when the rules are quickly put into force. This adds complications and added to costs for flights to and from the U.S.” 

Starting January 7, 2021, flights into Canada required passengers and leisure pilots to have proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test. The new Canadian federal requirements, beginning Feb. 3, 2021, required passengers and leisure pilots to quarantine at a federally approved hotel for three days, (initially suggesting a cost of $2,000) upon entering Canada. For passengers, aircrew and leisure pilots, the ArriveCAN process must be used to provide mandatory travel information on and after your entry into Canada. In the case of aircrew, the quarantine details are not required. If you’re not able to use the ArriveCAN app, you can submit your information online. Failure to submit your information could cause delays at the border and/or be subject to an enforcement action, from a verbal warning to a fine of $1,000.

According to TC, “A pilot operating an aircraft under CAR 604 is considered a crew member and therefore not required to have a negative COVID-19 molecular test within 72-hours of their flight into Canada. Depending on when they are next expected to return to duty, however, the flight crew operating a CAR 604 aircraft may need to undergo additional testing or quarantine upon arrival to Canada, at the direction of a Canada Border Services Agency or Public Health Agency of Canada staff member.”

As pilots, we consider the risk of the flight before embarking on a long cross-country. Weather, aircraft endurance, fuel availability (and price) and the aircraft’s mechanical capabilities are factors which the ferry pilot considers in an effort to make a go/no-go decision. COVID-19 adds more risk and cost to the flight. Financially, who will cover the risk of returning back to Canada after a long multi-day cross-country, in the event that the next COVID-19 test is positive or the final destination country’s requirements. A ferry pilot should read the fine print of their insurance policy to determine whether the pandemic nullifies the coverage and if there is an upper limit to the coverage. The annual cost of one provider’s COVID-19 Emergency Medical plan, for example, is $64 for a ferry pilot in good health and under the age of 60, where the pilot will be out of Canada for four days or less.  Other trip durations and options are available at additional cost. As with all insurance plans, read the fine print and understand the exclusions and requirements. | W


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