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This spring I was sitting around the airport in Ketchikan, Alaska with the Chief Pilot of Island Air Express and one of his pilots. We’d just finished talking about the operation at Island Air Express, and we were down to swapping tall tales about flying in Alaska, when it occurred to me that between Pat and Cable they had many years of experience flying around Southeast.
As a bonus, Cable had grown up on Kodiak Island and I was very interested in hearing about this seeming black hole off the coast of the Kenai Peninsula. I asked Cable if he would be willing to sit down with me and Pat and go on record about his experience flying around Southeast and on Kodiak.
The next day, after a visit to the Island Air Express operation on Klawock, all three of us sat down and discussed what the flying is like today in Southeast.
The main points I got out of the discussion were how the industry differed from my early perception of aviation in Southeast. There’s still a lot of float flying, but most of the flying is seasonal and based on the tourist industry. Ketchikan alone has three cruise ships pass through a day! That’s approximately 10,000 tourists passing through a town with a permanent population of only around 7,000 people.
One chief pilot I talked to kept 12 planes busy in the summer and only three in the winter. During the off- season, those three float planes provide service to remote villages. Unlike in western Alaska, there’s no bypass mail system to subsidize seat fares. Ice-free waterways mean barges and small boats can transport people and supplies year round. These waterways provide a cheap alternative to flying.
If you’re looking for your first job in Southeast you have a better shot if you apply in late winter/early spring and plan on working from May through September. A lucky few (those who worked hard and didn’t gripe) may be asked to stay through the winter.
The main bases in Southeast are Ketchikan and Juneau. Both have limited living space. This means quarters are hard to come by … and not cheap when you find something. If you’re coming up for seasonal work it might help to rent a place with some other pilots who are also working the summer season.
It doesn’t seem like you need a lot of float time to get hired. If you have good stick-and-rudder skills most companies will work with you. However, if you have no float time there are also jobs flying planes with wheels on the bottom. These operators seem to be concentrated around Juneau and Skagway. There are also a few medevac operations. Guardian operates out of Sitka and Ketchikan, and there may be another one out there as well.
Kodiak Island is a whole story by itself, and you’re going to have to listen to the interview to get that one.
In this interview you’ll hear about:
- The main flying hubs in Southeast.
- Seasonal vs. year-round opportunities.
- The challenge of finding housing (and some tips).
- Why more pilots are working seasonally in Southeast these days.
- The importance of showing up in person vs. applying via phone or email.
- The best places to start your job hunt if you’re a low-time pilot.
- The big role tourism plays in Southeast aviation (and the advantage for low-time pilots).
- The beauty and rugged flying out of Yakutat.
- The big differences between flying in Southeast vs. in the lower 48.
- The hectic pace of summer work.
- A rough look at starting pay.
- The difference between Alaskan bush pilot jobs “as seen on TV” … and the real deal.
- About Kodiak Island (where Cable grew up), the operators that fly there, what the flying is like, and who gets hired.
- Cable and Pat’s best advice for you if you want to fly in Southeast.
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See our Southeast Alaska Operator Directory.