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Back in April I went to Ketchikan, Alaska to talk to Pat Goodrich about flying in Southeast (as that part of Alaska is called). Pat is the Chief Pilot for Island Air Express, an air taxi company that operates out of the small town of Klawock, about 50 NM to the west of Ketchikan.
While most local air taxis rely on the summer tourist trade to provide the bulk of their yearly revenue (and run skeleton fleets throughout the winter), Pat and his pilots at Island Air Express have a different goal: to provide reliable, scheduled air service for the residents of Prince of Wales Island. To do this they have one Cessna 206 on floats, and two Garrett-powered Cessna Caravans: one on amphibious floats, and one on wheels. The Caravans are certified to fly IFR. Operating IFR is an oddity in Southeast, where floatplanes rule and approaches are few and far between. Having the ability to file IFR with the correct equipment allows Island Air Express to run consistent schedules all year long.
Island Air Express is a pretty small company with 3-4 full time pilots. That may change in the future, Pat says. Last winter they sent the amphib Caravan down to Scottsdale, Arizona to fly tourists. The pilots rotated two weeks on, two weeks off between Alaska and Arizona.
Most, if not all the pilots, call Klawock home year round. A typical schedule is flying three to four days a week. After walking around Ketchikan and talking to other operators there, I was surprised to hear that the pay scale is very comparable to what Western Alaska operators pay their pilots. Clearly, operators in Southeast are also interested in keeping pilots around for the long term.
As you might expect, most hiring is done by word of mouth. Any pilot interested in working for Island Air Express should plan a trip up to Klawock to talk to them in person. If living in a small, outdoorsy community and working for an equally small, tight-knit organization is your thing, then the trip may be well worthwhile.
Pat’s a fourth generation pilot. It’s not often you meet a pilot whose family history goes back to WWI and the early days of air mail! Our conversation could have gone on for hours. Unfortunately, I’d missed the 3:15 ferry over to the airport from the town of Ketchikan, and Pat had a flight to take at 4:30. With these time constraints we tried to stay on target in this interview. True to form, I got distracted when Pat mentioned flying in Botswana …
Stay tuned for our next post … a video walkthrough of an Island Air Express Garrett-powered Cessna Caravan!
In this interview you’ll hear about:
- Pat’s unique aviation family history (his Grandfather was a world war one fighter pilot who flew mail after the war).
- How persistence scored Pat his first Alaska flying job flying a Cherokee Six for Skagway Air.
- How he got a two-month gig doing volunteer work flying a Cessna 206 for conservation groups in Botswana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
- His time flying a Sherpa for Artic Circle Air out of Anchorage.
- Why he eventually moved to Southeast to fly Beavers on floats and 207s on wheels for Wings of Alaska in Juneau.
- How he worked for Alaska Seaplane Service for five years in Juneau, flying Beavers and Cessnas on floats, and eventually became the Chief Plot.
- Why he wanted to get back into IFR and turbine world, and how he ended up as the Chief Pilot at Island Air Express.
- What it’s like to fly IFR in Southeast (and why passengers prefer it).
- The challenge of finding float drivers with amphib experience and turbine time who can fly IFR.
- The benefits of the Garrett-powered Caravan.
- What Klawock is like, why Pat calls it “a tamer version of the bush,” and why it’s a great place to raise kids.
- What a typical pilot schedule is like at Island Air Express.
- How the flying and the weather in Southeast compares to the flying and weather in Western Alaska.
- What Pat looks for in pilots he hires.
- What the starting pay is at Island Air Express.
- Their operation flying tourists in an amphib Caravan out of Scottsdale, Arizona in the winter.
- Why Pat generally only hires people he’s met.
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