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Flying the Atlantic

Once a Week Crossing in Light Planes

A transatlantic ferry captain Magrit Waltz, who flies 50 general aviation aircraft overseas each year, enchanted a full auditorium of Mooney pilots with "war stories" about her crossings.

Margrit Waltz, talking to Mrs. Ivar Lindstrom, Los Alamos, NM
Lots of experience with Mooneys in ice

Though Waltz, age 40, thinks little of hopping in a new airplane and taking it across the ocean, she was visibly nervous about talking to 200-300 fellow pilots. But she accomplished the task by telling stories about delivering Cessna 172s, Mooneys, all kinds of twins, and 32 TBM-700s for her company, Trans Aero International, of Wilkes-Barre, PA. "This is a job you don’t do for the money alone. But not even you guys would be able to afford a new airplane every week," she told the pilots group.

Aircraft less than 10 years old are seldom a problem, but Trans Aero does have a shop check the engine condition on used aircraft. For newer aircraft, Waltz quipped that "once you get airborne, you set the autopilot and get out the manual to see how the airplane works."

Most of the risks involved with transatlantic flying are weather-related due to icing, low overcast and winds, Waltz noted. Navigation has become much easier thanks to GPS, but has drawn more inexperienced pilots into the North Atlantic, she said. In one case a pilot losing his GPS couldn’t estimate his position when declaring an emergency, even though Waltz and the Icelandic Coast Guard were in radio contact.

Waltz herself has been through emergency situations, including loss of electrical systems over Greenland in a Riley Rocket. That emergency ended by landing on a military landing strip after flying north along the Greenland coast into VFR conditions. Upon landing, she discovered that by activating her emergency location transmitter (ELT) in flight, she had sent out indications that dozens of aircraft were downed in the area.

Typical crossings are 28 hours with Mooneys, but can extend to 47 hours in a Cessna 172. However, a recent crossing with strong tailwinds pushing a Cessna 172 to 204 knots got the following query from a controller in Scotland, "Please verify that you’re flying a C-1-7-2."

Ferry crossings cost approximately $5,000 per trip – with the owner paying the insurance. Insurers like to see ferry pilots with more than 2,000 hours and experience in transatlantic flying as well. Trans Aero builds its new pilots’ experience by having an experienced pilot in the right seat on the first flight, then progresses to flying aircraft in tandem with an experienced pilot. There are about 40 active ferry pilots, according to Waltz.

Waltz began her transatlantic experience at age 19, when a German FBO for whom she was working asked her to negotiate a contract for a Commander 112B. That assignment turned into "deliver" the Commander, due to Waltz’ command of English. "It cost them in expenses about twice what it would have cost to hire a ferry company, but they were happy and thought they’d found a niche in the market," she said.

She began her flying career with an old German air ace, then turned to instructing as an economical way to keep current while at the University of Cologne. Later it was her future husband, David, who would take up flying because Magrit said that she couldn’t imagine being married to a non-pilot. "About nine months after I said that, David presented a piece of paper with a pilots license and said, ‘Would you marry me?’" He had taken lessons and gotten his license without letting her know.

Waltz has flown ferry deliveries the same month as delivering each of her two daughters. Six weeks later she’s taken her daughters on a delivery -- with survival suit for daughter as well as mother. On her delivery of a brand new Mooney to Germany, she decided that a new Mooney and 10-hour old diaper didn’t mix. "Though I’m pretty ‘green’ environmentally, I decided that just one time I could slow down and recycle a diaper in the North Sea," she said. Since the technique worked, she flew on to deliver the Mooney to its dealer in Bonn. When the dealer asked about the new appendage on the tail, she knew that the diaper had the right amount of humidity to adhere. "I wasn’t red -- I believed I turned purple. Luckily, Germans have a custom that animal droppings are good luck," said Waltz.

For those considering crossings themselves, Waltz spelled out the economics:
* landing fees of $80 for single-engine aircraft in Greenland; $120-$140 for twin engine; with fees rising to $800 past 8 p.m.
* added parking fees
* European approach and (separate) departure fees of $40-$50
* European ATC fees of $700 for crossing the continent
* holiday premiums for landing fees of 200% or more
* Avgas in Greenland at $8.20 per gallon; $6.20 per gallon in Germany

When asked about a Mooney’s performance in the icing conditions common to the North Atlantic from September to May, Waltz said that there is a speed drop when the first inch of ice goes on the wing -- but that the Mooney speeds up again as the ice progresses further on the aircraft profile. She presumes that it is because the laminar airflow is restored on the Mooney and noted that the speed resumption does not occur on thicker wings like the Baron or Bonanza.

-- AEC

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Revision: 10/28/2010