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Apr 11 2013

Buying an Airplane in Canada, Part 4: Delivery

Let’s relax and imagine that all our troubles are left behind – here’s an airplane you love, its condition is good enough to fly right away or you can fix it easily, there’s no legal scum hanging off the wings, and the seller made every attempt to understand and cover your extra expenses.

Now the only remaining thing is – how to bring your airplane to the new home and make it yours officially?

If you’ve bought a plane in Canada, and it’s a flyable aircraft, ready to go – hop in and fly home. Plan the route in advance, book the hotels if you’d need to stay overnight, and don’t forget to make the very first legs short! You may even wish to shoot a couple of touch and goes before attempting to fly away. That’s especially true if the machine is new to you. Getting some dual time in the type prior to delivery would help, but even then – different rigging and pilot’s lack of experience will count.

If you have a friend who’s experienced enough in flying this particular type, do not hesitate a second in asking him to help you, acting as a safety pilot. You obviously insured the machine since the day of purchase, right? And this insurance allows other people to fly it, if necessary? Please figure that out well in advance – the last thing you want is to get a stupid mishap somewhere in the middle of your trip back home, leaving you with damaged airplane, hurt relationships with the buddy, and unclear way of paying for damages – that’s hoping that no one was hurt…

If the plane is in Canada but could not be flown to a new base (for example, it’s a brand-new homebuilt restricted by 25 miles rule, or a project to be completed, or a damaged plane requiring fix before getting in the air), you’ll need to truck it to its new base.

In my experience, a 22 foot sled-carrying flatbed trailer resulted to be an excellent mean of ground transportation for a non-flyable airplane. It is wide and long enough to get any partially disassembled light aircraft on top of it. The platform sits high above the wheels, minimizing damage from debris flying under the wheels of your truck and other cars. Yet, it is easily maneuverable with a bit of practice, and rental is cheap.

Loading the plane on that platform and taking it back may be quite a handful! I’ve used tractors and some body work to get bits and pieces on and off the trailer. Bring a good set of ratchets, ropes, tape, something soft with lots of friction (carpet pad works surprisingly well!) Maybe you’ll need some sort of wooden structure to hold different parts in the right position, keeping them safe from movement and damage… That’s a project on its own, don’t under-estimate it.

While towing that precious trailer, be very careful about all the vehicles passing you – there’d be flying junk and waves of compressed air hitting your fragile cargo. Getting through the gas pumps would be another challenge – though compensated by amusement and excited questions from the people around.

Planes don’t like rain, so either ensure the weather is good, or cover the plane overnight with a tarp. Driving a plane covered with a tarp is not recommended, though, as it’d inevitably get loose – smacking and flapping against your plane mercilessly!

Covered trailer may be an even better option, but the size of such construction will be absolutely humongous, requiring a powerful tow truck and complicating maneuvering to get the disassembled plane in and out even more – probably beyond the average drivers’ capabilities, license, and experience.

Towing the plane from the States is no different, except that you’ll get certain attention from the border service – so be prepared for the long talks. Obviously, importation would include “freezing” your cargo until the fees are paid – so please triple-check in advance how would that be handled at your point of entry.

And ferrying the plane from States is also tricky.

You can, obviously, get a temporary Canadian registration, and special ferry permits, and tons of other slow and expensive paperwork – but your best bet would be in convincing the seller to fly this plane for you. Let him bring it to Canada, with him as PIC, under original US registration and insurance, and land at your home airport. Then give him money, airline ticket home, maybe a good dinner, and drive him to the nearest international airport.

That’d be the dream, but only maybe 1 out of 20-25 sellers I was dealing with were willing even to discuss such a journey. Most of them also requested paying them substantial ferry expenses, running around couple thousand dollars for a medium-length trip – you’ve kept that in mind when looking for your dream airplane and working down the asking price, right?

Oh, and also many a seller would refuse to fly outside unless you pay the whole amount upfront. Even if you’ll incur risk to get that mishap in the middle of the road, sitting on some American farmer’s field with your damaged or destroyed plane, hopefully not injured pilot and passenger, and effectively wasted purchase money – which your insurance company may or may not pay you back… partially. That after a long, long, long investigation.

And your plane would effectively be grounded until Canadian registration is completed – with previous Transport Canada inspection and approval, Border Agency notified, all taxes and fees paid… That’s a lot of hassle, make no mistake. Papers will move slowly, you’d get your share of “wait for 90 days, and call us if there’s no news” promises – which will actually require reminders and pushing here and there well beyond the 90 days period.

There are plenty of horror stories about non-approved equipment that should’ve been either removed or re-certified in Canada. These stories exist for a reason – bureaucracy is stunning, managing to both miss critical items, and destroy your ass with minor things growing out of proportion.

That’s why, though most of Canadian airplanes are actually built in US and imported at some point, ridiculous Canadian aviation market still exist – even with its insane prices and uncomfortable legal procedures it may be still cheaper, or at least easier, to buy inside the country than bring from the South. New foreign aircraft are excluded from many a hassle, but this comes with a millionaire price tag.

But let’s think positive! Imagine that you’ve successfully purchased and delivered the airplane – here it is, sitting in front of the hangar, smiling at you. Personally, I felt a great deal of tiredness and relief, mixed with very limited amount of childish joy when that occurred to me – but hope you’ll do better.

Just be careful, and have fun!