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How Does The Boeing 717 Fly All The Way To The Mainland?

Photo FRED (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Have you ever wondered how aircraft manufacturers deliver new smaller aircraft over long distances? What about ferrying them for heavy maintenance checks?

Generally speaking aircraft deliveries that are flown across the Atlantic Ocean are not a problem. There are several airports across the north, for example at St. Johns in Canada and Keflavik in Iceland. And if you run into problems, you can always find a place to land in Greenland. Then, Keflavik is fairly close to Glasgow which means even smaller planes with shorter range can make the trans-Atlantic flight.

But what about aircraft deliveries flown over the Pacific?

There is so much open space between Alaska and many Asian countries, pilots will sometimes opt to go the longer way and pick a route through Europe to make a delivery.

Delivering aircraft over the Pacific to Asia is difficult because even if you fly the northernly route through Alaska, you still face long legs and bad weather conditions. One of the hardest places to make an aircraft delivery is to the island state of Hawaii. It is a very challenging feat because there is no alternate that can be used for a landing between the west coast U.S. mainland and Hawaii. The shortest route is San Francisco to Hilo and even that is more than 2,300 statuate miles. It makes delivery flights and maintenance ferrying a challenge.

How Hawaiian ferries its Boeing 717 aircraft

Short range aircraft like the Boeing 717 are in regular use by Hawaiian Airlines.  Because the jet is built for short range flights, there is no way they could fly to the mainland for painting and heavy maintenance without a stop. And they are way too big to go on a barge between the Islands and the mainland.  Plus, it wouldn’t be cost effective to keep a jet out of service for such a long period of time anyways.

The answer to this conundrum may surprise you. Temporary ferry tanks are installed in the cabin to provide fuel so the 717 can go the distance. The seats are replaced with fuel tanks, as seen here:

The 717 has a ferry range of 2500 nm. SFO-OGG is 2032 nm. That’s cutting it a little close for comfort so extra tanks provide insurance that the plane will have enough fuel to make the whole trip. Remember, there are no divert options between the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland! Of course, there are also the Pacific headwinds to deal with too when coming from the mainland. That is why extra tanks are loaded on board.

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Kim Clark

Written by Kim Clark

Former CNN Radio News Network anchor Kim Clark is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She currently freelances for S&P Global and works as a club and event Disc Jockey in Atlanta, Georgia, after having held positions doing news on radio morning shows and holding down the position of Music Director of commercial radio stations owned by Cumulus and Clear Channel.

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