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His logbooks were a mess. The threads of the bindings were showing - barley holding the books together, the pages were wrinkled, literally falling out and the writing inside faded to almost illegibility. These were the logbooks of an Alaska bush pilot, we’ll call “Mike.” He had come to interview with our airline presenting what we perceived as a horrific display of irresponsibility with the condition of his logbooks. That is until we discovered he had an emergency where he was forced to ditch his airplane and when it was fished out of the lake somehow miraculously his logbooks survived…however unappealing their appearance.
This is one of those stories that I was not surprised to encounter from a bush pilot. We’ve all done some sort of reading about pilots who fly in the vast Alaskan wilderness and developed our own conclusions and assumptions on what type of person it takes to conduct this type of flying - voluntarily. Having never been to Alaska and knowing relatively few pilots who have flown there my initial perceptions of an Alaska bush pilot (which I’m sure I’m not alone in) are that of dangerous flying, extraordinary aptitude, superior knowledge of surrounding terrain and almost a romantic understanding of the machine being flown.
So is flying in Alaska a good choice to build time? My opinion in its most simple form is yes. However, in a more complex explanation I must qualify my answer. If anyone is considering flying in Alaska as a time builder for the airlines I encourage them to do some research before committing to such an endeavor. In the reading that I have done it appears to be an extremely challenging region to fly within, including weather that changes on a dime, towns few and far between (sometimes several hundred nautical miles) and not very many places to land in case of emergency. Knowing this type of information I recommend some soul searching. Are you the type of individual who likes to plan, re-plan and re-plan again as weather changes enroute? Are you comfortable with relying on your “sixth-sense” to make snap decisions with nobody around to ask for their advice? Are you willing to study and know your airplane inside-out so you can interpret mechanical malfunctions? Will you enjoy the challenge of flying in a remote wilderness, often times alone? What is it about flying that you love the most? These are just a few of the questions I would suggest asking yourself before heading north. Further, I would also suggest you also research the many Alaska flying clubs and connect with some pilots who have flown or currently fly in Alaska. Get some good, reliable feedback on what it’s like and what type of experiences you can expect. Then you can better decide if this is the direction for you.
Is Alaska really more dangerous? According to the NTSB accident statistics for 2003 & 2004 Alaska accounts for 6% (215 of 3546) of accidents within the U.S. [source: http://www.ntsb.gov/Aviation/AK/alaska_stat.htm#stats] When I was researching some statistics for this article I came across several websites and articles written by those who have flown, and possibly still fly in Alaska. You may want to read what they have to say as well. http://www.alaska.faa.gov/ancfsdo/Flyingak/flyingak.htm; http://www.atlasaviation.com/AviationLibrary/FlyingInAlaska/FlyinginAlaska.htm; http://www.avweb.com/news/safety/183068-1.html
As far as the airlines go I would venture to guess that most recruiters have about the same amount of knowledge of bush flying as I do. Not much. So we rely on what we have read, heard and the types of individuals we’ve interviewed with this type of experience. For me, what comes to mind when I am informed someone flies in Alaska is that this person probably has the ability to think out of the box in any situation, as backup plans seem to be a necessity in order to fly in Alaska, someone who has good “stick and rudder” skills, the ability to make quick decisions, is intuitive and who is intimately familiar with his or her surroundings. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and my perceptions, which may or may not be different from other folks.
Personally, I believe that flying is a continuous state of education and the more hours you log the more educated you become. Alaska can offer some incredible flying education and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. If you choose to fly in Alaska I hope you will share some photos of your experiences for the rest of us to see and enjoy!
By they way – we hired “Mike”.
About the Author:
Lori Clark is the principal of Clark Aviation Consulting. As a former Manager of Pilot Recruiting for many years, she interviewed thousands of airline pilots and has an extensive knowledge of what airline pilot boards are looking for. Clark can help pilots understand what an interview board is looking for and how they are perceived. She offers simple but effective techniques that help pilots better present themselves before airline boards. For more information, please visit Clark Consulting at http://www.FlyTheLine.com or http://ClarkConsulting.blogspot.com
©2008 Clark Aviation Consulting, All Rights Reserved. Reprints with permission.
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