LONDON – One of the things on the bucket list of mine was completed back in 2018 when going on a ferry flight between Toulouse (TLS) and Doha (DOH) with Qatar Airways.
But to do it as a job is something that I wish I could have trained for many years ago. However, we can look no closer than ferry pilot Steve Giordano who does this for a living. Now, I got the incredible opportunity to speak to Mr. Giordano about Jet Test & Transport and his experiences behind it.
Seven Questions with Steve
JF: Steve, thank you for speaking to Airways. Tell our readers about yourself and what you do.
SG: I am one of the co-founders and Managing Director of Jet Test & Transport.
Most would call JetTest a “Ferry Company”. Technically JetTest is an American company that specializes in “Transactional Flight Operations” (TFO = aircraft operations in support of an asset transaction I.E.: Purchase/Sale, Lease Delivery/Return, Repossession, Conversion to Freighter).
We provide our global customers (mainly aircraft lessors, banks & airlines) operational test flight and delivery (ferry-flight) services which include technical assessment, registration, and regulatory support, flight crews, mission planning, supporting logistics, and flight operations.
Jettest functions like a very capable (but tiny) airline, operating virtually every aircraft type Worldwide on long-haul flights (without passengers or cargo).
In other words, we don’t haul people or cargo – all of our flights are just to physically relocate the AIRCRAFT – or test it’s systems. We don’t deal with anything smaller than a regional turboprop or jet – (no business jets or light aircraft) just Large Commercial Aircraft (Boeing, Airbus Etc).
Jettest has 3 Managing Partners, Bob Allen, Gloyd Robinson, and Myself. We all hail from airline pilot backgrounds. I started flying in the late 1990s; beginning as a CFI in both Arizona and the Philadelphia area.
My first commercial flying gig was as a C208B caravan pilot flying night freight. From there I flew for several regionals on the C-402, SF340, and DHC-8 respectively.
I started flying jets in 2005 as a pilot with a National Airline on the MD-80. I was with another airline for nine and a half years where I was an MD-80, and then later, an A320 Captain. I was also in the US Marine Corps Reserve in a non-aviation role.
In 2005, I met Gloyd Robinson, a fellow line-pilot who was doing a bunch of ferry work on the side and began ferrying planes around as a contract pilot on DC-9s, MD-80s, and DHC-8s for a company owned by Bob Allen called Avia Crew Leasing.
This was my first taste of international flying and the “ferry business”. From there, I went out and got some type of ratings on my own so that I could make myself available for more ferry flights.
The Boeing 737 was first, followed by the A320, A330, A340, Boeing 777, and 757/767. We had to carefully balance our airline schedules with our “off duty flying” time to remain legal for revenue operations.
We struck deals with crew schedulers and paid cash to fellow line-pilots to cover our trips or reserve periods. We did so initially with permission from our chief pilots.
Later it became more difficult to balance as new Management was brought in. A few years later I started contracting for another crew leasing company owned by a gentleman named Pete Adler.
Pete had contracts with several lessors and a few air carriers in Southeast Asia. Gloyd and I became his go-to Ferry Crew for most of his ops.
This was appx 2010. In 2012, Pete Adler was killed aboard the Sukhoi Superjet crash that impacted Mt. Salak outside of Jakarta Indonesia. The incident is well known.
Pete was a passenger on that flight as a consultant to Sriwijaya Air who was one of several Indonesian air carriers receiving the sales pitch in the form of a “Demonstration flight” of the aircraft.
He did not have a role in the demonstration flight; in other words, he was just a passenger. The crash was blamed on Pilot error by the Russian Sukhoi demonstration crew.
With Pete’s unfortunate demise, his customers were left scrambling for a solution, so Gloyd and I set up our own company to pick up where he left off. Jet Test and Transport was born.
From 2012-14 we grew Jettest by marketing our services directly to Lessors around the world. We stayed small and crewed everything ourselves or with our close friends and associates (other misfit airline guys who ferried planes on their days off).
Avia Crew Leasing was still operating independently, as an employer of these same “misfit toys”; so a handshake agreement between Jettest and Bob Allen (old friends) kept things so we didn’t steal each other’s customers.
In 2014 we had a fairly large customer base and were flying about 30-40 Ops per year with revenues in excess of 3M USD. One of our customers, Aercap – had recently merged with ILFC.
Avia Crew Leasing was servicing ILFC and the merger presented a challenge for the handshake agreement between Avia Crew Leasing and Jettest.
Together we decided to MERGE the two companies together and keep the Jet Test and Transport name. Bob Allen became the 3rd Managing Partner and we set out to conquer the world!
Gloyd and I quit our jobs at the Airline in 2014 and never looked back. We hired 2 dispatch/planners from Colt Flight Services in Calgary (Chris Fochuk and Mark Lawrence) who set up the Jettest flight support office in Calgary AB.
Bringing flight planning, dispatch, and logistics support in-house gave us a cost and experience advantage over all of our competitors. Quickly, we discovered our biggest advantage in the TFO market was the fact that we were the ONLY fully in-house solution out there.
Where our competitors like Parc, Southern Cross, and later Spire & Six West are basically “pilot temp agencies”; simply maintaining a database of retired, employed, and freelance pilots around the world, and then using 3rd party resources for operational planning and support – Jettest is an experienced team that uses our own crews ourselves and a very small circle of pilots who we’ve been working with for years (the misfit toys)… in house planning and technical, and a network of ground handling and fuel vendors around the world. The transactional flight ops business is highly irregular and complicated, and experience with this side of the business is critical to successful operations.
Today, Jet Test and Transport is widely recognized as the go-to solution for dozens of major lessors, manufacturers, airlines, MROs, and mod-shops.
We have 2 full-time dispatchers/planners, 2 full-time trip accountants, 3 managing partners, 3 additional flight operations managers, and about 10 part-time pilots.
We hold a Bermuda BCAA A134 AOC, we have a 121-standard Safety-Management-System (SMS), 121-grade manuals and recurrency programs, and an industry-leading cache of support hardware including Portable HF longwire system installations, Satcom units, rafts, a CMS system, a proprietary flight management software system, an ICAO callsign, and 4 ops centers (Nevada, New Jersey, Canada, and Thailand).
We operate between 250-350 flight operations per year, all over the world. We operate on behalf of nearly all of the major lessors and about a dozen airlines.
We operate almost every Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, and Douglas aircraft. Our pilots hold FAA, Transport Canada, & EASA licenses, and obtain one-time and limited-duration license validations from other countries to operate on foreign registrations all over the world.
I’m 43 and live in Southern NJ just outside of Philadelphia where I was born. I am married with 4 sons. I personally fly about 20-25% of Jettest operations and can be found traveling about 175-200 nights per year.
I hold 2 valid US passports, visas for most countries, and have to replace my passports appx every 3 years because I run out of pages.
I circle the globe literally several times per month, consistently. When I’m off, I sit in my home office and take in jobs, manage contract employees in the field, and assist our dispatch and planning team with ongoing ops in faraway countries, sometimes even war zones.
I’ve been to nearly every country on the planet and generally hit all 6 populated continents every year by March. I have top-tier status on 2 major us airlines, including Concierge Key status on American; and with all airlines combined, I fly about 350,000 “airline miles” as a passenger every year.
I own my own small plane, a restored 1969 Aerostar 600 which I hangar in Princeton NJ. I am personally PIC typed on the B737, B757, B767, B777, A320, A330, A340, DC-9, DHC-8/Q400, and CE500 aircraft.
I have an FAA ATP license and about 18,000 hours total flight time; more than 12,000 of that is as Pilot-in-command on transport category jets.
I stay current on almost all of the types, but stopped staying current on the DC-9/MD-80 and CE500 about 2 years ago. We spend a LOT of time in the simulator doing recurrent training, but we’re also growing our team with high-quality Ferry Pilots (a different breed) who hail from some serious backgrounds.
A former USAF test pilot coming off of a 20-year career in the Air Force, a former Part 121 Airline Director of Operations, some really talented young pilots who are facing their first furlough and are worried about feeding their families.
I volunteer flying adoptable dogs for Pilots & Paws in my spare time to/from animal rescues and shelters with the Aerostar. I also founded a Non-Profit charity called the Humanitarian Lift Project which provides all-volunteer airlift services in support of natural disasters in the Caribbean (mostly hurricanes).
HLP uses light private aircraft to fly in first responders and equipment, doctors, and medicine and has in the past partnered with Jettest to incorporate space on ferry flights to transport mass quantities of relief supplies (generators, water filters, donated goods) for free to areas in need.
We supported Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Dorian so far, and stand ready to assist in future situations.
JF: What is the best destination you have been to during your career and why?
SG: Everybody asks this question and it’s SUCH a difficult one. First and foremost – for as long as I can remember, I have been OBSESSED with travel.
When I was a little kid – like 10-11 years old, I used study travel guides from the library, and then write BINDERS full of travel information including hotels, airlines – (I would call them and get ticket prices), list all the attractions, restaurants, and establish budgets for family vacations, which I would PLEAD with my parents to take us on.
We didn’t have a lot of means, so we never actually went on any international trips – but honestly, I just enjoyed the exercise of PLANNING them and fantasizing about where we could go and the things we would see when there. I was AS obsessed with the airplanes as I was with the destinations.
From the age of about eight or nine, I could tell you almost any detail about ANY aircraft operating at the airlines. I didn’t leave the country (besides a road trip to Canada) until I was in my 20s.
Now in my mid-40s, and despite the fact that I’ve literally been almost everywhere in the world, I STILL get a bit excited before every trip. It never fades. I like different places for different reasons which make the question so hard.
In general – I like to be exposed to different cultures and things that are very foreign to me as an American. I also love food, nature, and the sea – so I’m drawn to places that offer the best of those worlds.
My TOP 5 places are:
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Moscow, Russia
- Naples, Italy
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Mombasa, Kenya
Moscow is a close-tie with my overall #1 because it’s a place that gets MORE interesting every time I visit. The Russian people are no-BS direct, even a bit gruff and UN-welcoming, but I love that about them. If you become close friends with a Russian, they remain friends for life. I have MANY great friends in Russia.
Moscow is a vibrant city with wealth and excess. I find Russians to be curious about Americans and vice-versa – so most conversations that you have with strangers over there are VERY interesting.
I’ve been to MANY cities in Russia and they’re all uniquely fascinating, but Moscow is the easiest to visit because most people speak some English, and seem to be more willing to engage with Americans.
I like Siberia a lot too, but it’s hard to communicate without speaking Russian, and it’s a major challenge to get around.
You really need to have a local with you to get the most out of your visit to Siberia – but Moscow is doable solo. In the beginning, I hated traveling to Moscow because it was overwhelming and even intimidating, but I’ve grown to love it.
If I had to choose, I’d say Sri Lanka is probably the best destination I’ve ever been to. I was VERY pleasantly surprised when I first visited. Despite some history of violence there, it’s generally a pretty safe place to walk around the streets. The food is amazing, the people are friendly, and the culture is so different.
I can best explain my feelings about Sri Lanka by saying that it incorporates all of the best parts of Asia/India but without all of the worst parts. The ABSOLUTE friendliest and welcoming people I’ve ever come across are there.”
The city is surprisingly clean and organized. The natural elements of the sea, the plains, the mountains, the jungles, are just so beautiful. The wildlife is easily visible in its natural habitat and HUGE areas of the country are unspoiled.
Sri Lanka is exotic and beautiful, safe and friendly, and when you are there, you feel like you’re in another world.
JF: What is the most interesting aircraft you have had to ferry overseas?
“I’ve seen a lot of interesting things out there from flying aircraft with government/military modifications on otherwise normal civilian platforms to Airbus A330s, Boeing 767s, and MD-80s converted to SVIP aircraft with luxurious interiors that afford more space and amenity than the average house.”
I’ve also seen the other side of “interesting” while extracting aircraft from remote locations in Africa that have to be “limped” from city to city with inoperative systems and makeshift solutions. The aircraft that we fly are always technically “airworthy” but that definition is interpreted differently in different parts of the world.
In the early days of Jettest, we saw a lot of “fringe” operations like this, but as we’ve grown, we’ve moved into a much more mainstream customer base with newer, well-maintained aircraft. It’s quite rare these days for us to come across anything that isn’t as equipped and airworthy as any plane flying the line currently at a western airline.
I’ve flown a retired Air Force C-9B (DC-9-30) out of Andrews AFB that was literally parked on the other side of the fence from Air Force One. That DC-9 was the one that transported Laura Bush around Africa during the GWB administration as she spread her message about education to the world.
I’ve delivered a VIP aircraft to the King of Swaziland. I’ve delivered a couple of head-of-state aircraft actually. I’ve conducted flight testing on a B737-400F with a Seaborne Oil Spill Dispersant System installed – in this one, we operated on an experimental registration.
The aircraft had a 2500LB Diesel water pump, a 6-tank manifold system, and modified fire hose nozzles installed at various window positions.
We sprayed dyed water repeatedly over a runway at different altitudes, flap configurations, and airspeeds so that engineers could measure “droplet size” to determine best practices for applying oil spill dispersant chemicals to off-shore spills in the North Sea.
We ferried a 737-400 a few years back from the UAE to Roswell NM that had been hit with an RPG months prior. The RPG round did not explode – rather it entered and exited the fuselage of the aircraft between frame bays.
Boeing approved the aircraft for flight after conducting a thorough analysis with minimal repair needed to the structure of the aircraft – BUT it had to be ferried non-pressurized down at 10,000’ (a 737 normally flies at 32,000+).
Because of this, the aircraft had to stop every 3 hours for fuel! Aircraft are more efficient the higher they fly. We recently repossessed 5 B737-800 aircraft at the SAME TIME. This was interesting because we had to mobilize 10 pilots and 1 engineer and prepare extremely complex logistics to assure the operation went off without a hitch.
Because of COVID travel restrictions, the planning took over a month to organize, and we had to charter a private jet to get to the origin city.
Because the trip required we transit the entire Pacific Ocean, we had to choreograph the movement of aircraft at very specific times because the enroute fuel stops were on islands with minimal ramp space and small runways.
The timing was critical, and mobilizing essentially all of our guys at the same time was intense. We flew in pairs, 2-1-2 with the first 2 aircraft in 15 min trail of each other, then 3 was 45 mins behind 2, 4 was 30 mins behind 3, and 5 was 15 mins behind 4.
Amazingly it all worked out perfectly. We had to have several contingency plans in place in case an aircraft had a technical issue on the ground at a fuel stop.
If that occurred, the trailing aircraft needed to divert to other remote islands with services standing by. The engineer departed on the 1st aircraft and then left the technical stop aboard the last aircraft so that he could be in place for contingencies.
This was all made 100X more difficult because of Covid-19 restrictions as well – crews needed to meet the entry requirements with PCR tests which would be considered valid for each point and contingency point. In the end – we got all 5 aircraft delivered 1 hour ahead of schedule.
JF: Has COVID-19 made your job incredibly busy because of the amount of aircraft that have had to be placed in storage?
SG: COVID-19 has been a game-changer for my business in every respect. It’s increased our business volume & revenue exponentially, brought new customers we’ve been wanting to work for, and at the same time has made our job a million times more challenging.
At the beginning (FEB/MAR), everything ground to a halt. NOBODY in the industry knew what to expect and all of the projects we were working on (mainly deliveries) just ceased to exist. To add to the mess, more than one of our customers went bankrupt and did not pay nearly half-million dollars in receivables to us for work already completed.
For 2.5 months, we paid our employees, didn’t work, and siphoned from our reserves to cover expenses that would have been paid by the receivables we were expecting. Those months were VERY scary for us, and we were unsure if we would be able to weather the storm.
Slowly the calls started coming in, and by July, we were getting hammered with requests for multi-aircraft projects to and from mainly countries in Southeast Asia, China, and India.
Lessors were taking early returns, and pulling assets out of failing companies. At the same time, some of our part-timers were getting time off from their airlines or getting furlough notices – which is good for us, enabling us to meet the demands of the industry.
We’ve been running round the clock for months now. Each project is a logistical nightmare during the pandemic.
Travel is extremely complicated with reduced airline capacity, reduced route structure, and major restrictions on immigration, cancellation of visas, and mandatory quarantine in many many locations.
The worst part of it is that every country has different rules, and every day they change. Our ops planners are facing a changing landscape every morning, and as trips start coming together, we often have to change routings or travel plans hours before a flight to route into somewhere weird.
We had to buy an extra faux ticket to a destination we weren’t going to a few weeks ago in order to be allowed to board for Doha so that we could get to Manila.
On 4 Trips so far, we’ve had to charter a business jet to get to an operation, We chartered a Gulfstream in Phnom Penh Cambodia last month to take us to Malaysia where we ramp-transferred to the 2 737-800 aircraft we were pulling out of K.L to take to the desert outside of Tucson.
We chartered a Falcon-10 air ambulance in Malta to take us to Juba-South Sudan to extract a DHC-8 from a UN Contract, We chartered a hawker to move a crew from Jakarta to Singapore, and we recently chartered a Falcon 7X to get us to Australia from the States.
The challenges are immense, and the cost is extremely high. The lessors have no choice but to incur these expensive logistics because it’s the only way.
The cost of losing an asset sitting in a rainy climate in SE Asia is too high to ignore. The calls are continuing to roll in, and we’re working nonstop to meet the demand.
JF: Do you see this pattern continuing over the next few years?
We have a unique birds-eye view of the industry, and also watch the asset market for opportunities to buy aircraft with some equity investors by guiding deals and supporting the asset transition process.
We even bought & flipped three Boeing 737-300Fs and three 767-300ERs a few years ago with an equity partner to take advantage of an opportunity when it existed.
My point is, we are seeing the tip of a giant iceberg here. Airline capacity was already too high; especially in China and Asia. Airbus and Boeing were churning out too many jets They still are really.
COVID has changed the way we do business as a modern culture. Travel will resume, but it International travel will not get back to pre COVID levels.
Savvy lessors are grabbing freighter conversion feedstock; cargo is doing well… The Max coming online will decimate the already surplus-level -800 market values.
Older NG and even A321 (with the new STC) will line up to be hollowed out into freighters. The less desirable ones will go to the part-out market.
I think we can expect to see a ton of transactional movement for 5-10 years coming off of this. Many airlines will fail and disappear. Some savvy ones might grow. We could see a new surge in Q400 even. I anticipate a lot of work.
JF: What is your favourite element of your job?
SG: Variety. This is the perfect line of work for someone with high energy levels, and advanced ADD. Haha. I think it is the dream career for anyone who loves airplanes and adventure, where else can you see the whole world over and over again, eat exotic food in its natural habitat, see the most amazing views of the most beautiful places on earth, do it wearing jeans and a t-shirt, with a beard, no boss, no vacation-bid, and no seniority.
Fly only with guys you like, and make enough money to live a good life. The only downside, is that it can be all-consuming sometimes. I can’t turn the company off for a night very often. My clients call me from Hong Kong at 2 AM and I have to fire up a zoom call.
JF: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
SG: 2020 definitely seems to be a crossroads of some sort for the entire planet. Certainly for America, and Absolutely for the Aviation Industry.
There’s no doubt that the worst has yet to be realized in this business, in that fallout from the pandemic will deliver both crushing blows, and significant opportunities.
Businesses will innovate, and the market will correct – inevitably, but I don’t think we will be looking at the same industry going forward. There are new formulas that the industry will need to follow, and new contingencies to consider.
There was always risk of a global pandemic prior to 2020 but air travel certainly never saw it coming.. Now air travel knows it can happen, and it can happen again.
How will we set up the industry to be prepared for this new threat? An industry that relies on stacking people in close proximity for hours at a time… An industry that hauls biological organisms around the planet dumping them in heavily populated crowded spaces… That is where we are! Where it goes next is how we build it.
JF: Steve, thank you very much for talking to Airways.
All photos taken by Steve. Featured Image: Picture of Steve. Photo Credit: Steve Giordano