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What's the difference (for the purpose) between positioning and ferry flight?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

A positioning flight is a flight for the sole purpose of positioning the aircraft to conduct another flight from another airport. This is often done when the aircraft finishes its day in one city, but is needed in a different city the following day because another plane has broken down.

A positioning flight is technically a type of ferry flight, however the latter is a more broad term. Examples of ferry flights include delivery from the manufacturer, or flying to a different city for heavy maintenance.

Both flights are generally conducted without fare-paying passengers on board, but sometimes extra airline staff are carried.

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5  
A "ferry flight" can also have a regulatory connotation in FAA-land: It can refer to transporting an aircraft under a "ferry permit" - or more precisely a "special flight permit" - when it might not currently meet airworthiness requirements (one example is an aircraft with an expired annual being flown to an airport where the annual can be conducted). – voretaq7 Jan 28 at 19:18
    
Why don't they charge money for these seats? Surely they have to make the plane just as safe whether there's paying customers on board. Seems like they're leaving money on the table! – corsiKa Jan 28 at 20:10
    
@corsiKa, "these seats" are their own (or contractor, e.g. maintenance) staff they need to transport. By putting them on a positioning flight they are saving money as they would otherwise take up space on a revenue flight. – Jan Hudec Jan 28 at 20:49
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@corsiKa Occasionally they do take 'overflow' passengers on positioning flights. But they are usually arranged on such short notice you couldn't sell anything if you tried, plus then you need to pay for cabin crew. And as voretaq7 excellently points out, some ferry flights are not (legally) as safe as normal ops so passengers are not allowed. – Ben Jan 28 at 20:51
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@corsiKa Just some examples of the very-short-notice type of flights Ben spoke of. Three of the many ferry flights I did were because of pressurization problems, which meant we were required to stay at or below 10,000 feet. Two were 3-engine 747 ferry flights, which meant that we were not allowed to have more than the required crew on board: pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer (old 747-200s). – Terry Jan 28 at 21:03

Ferry flight refers to flying the aircraft from the factory or flying of the aircraft to or from major maintenance (overhaul).

Positioning flight refers to the aircraft to some place(airport) from which it is operated. For example, an aircraft may be positioned at an airport for normal operations from the next day.

Both are non revenue flights. They are often used interchangeably. NTSB, however, seems to consider ferry flights as a type of positioning flight.


Eurocontrol defines positioning flight as:

A non-revenue flight carried out to position an aircraft for a scheduled or non-scheduled flight or service.

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There's no absolute accepted definition across the world, however generally it depends on whether passengers could be carried on the flight. In a positioning flight the airplane could carry passengers, in a ferry flight usually not due to the condition of the airplane (mechanical problems, extra fuel tanks) or the ownership.

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