Flying the Alaskan bush is fun, adventurous and exciting. Pilots get to fly
in some of the most remote and beautiful locations on the planet,
navigating challenging terrain and weather conditions. Bush pilots work
independently. They have autonomy and control over each flight.
They make their own decisions and are responsible for all safety considerations.
Being a bush pilot in Alaska can involve many different types of flying.
Flying on floats, wheels, amphibians, and skis can all come into play.
On floats you will land and takeoff on rivers, lakes, and salt water locations
On wheels, there are often destinations like salt water beaches,
grassy hills, gravel bars on rivers, ridges and even mountain tops. On skis,
You'll land on snow covered terrain, frozen lakes or rivers, and even glaciers
for landings and takeoffs. It all depends on the equipment you are flying, and
what kinds of missions are flown by the flight operation you fly for.Back to the
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Alaska bush pilots transport an amazing variety of cargo and supplies to
an amazing variety of remote locations. They conduct search and rescue
missions, fly occasional medivacs, do aerial surveys for many reasons, or
even deliver parts to disabled commercial fishing boats. They transport
clients for fly-out fishing and hunting lodges (often as guides as well).
They take tourists on flights through and over gorgeous vistas often with
stops at areas of remote beauty. They fly trips to bear viewing locations.
They do glacier flights with glacier landings and takeoffs. These are some
of the many kinds of missions flown that keep the flying fun, adventurous,
As a bush pilot you might live in a small town or remote community. This can
offer a unique lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
For some jobs, work time can be flexible with some companies providing
week-on week-off work schedules, allowing the pilot to go somewhere else,
often with free air transportation to and from.
Airline flying typically pays better than bush flying due to the larger number
of paying passengers, and the complexity of the aircraft. Airline
pilots are required to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license which
requires a flight time minimum of 1500 hours, and is likely more expensive
to obtain than a 250 hour commercial license.
Flying for an Alaska flight operation with a commercial license, often
requires appropriate ratings for example, instrument and seaplane. Most
Alaska bush flying businesses require the minimum total time of 500 hours
necessary for operating under FARS Part 135. Sometimes Alaska flight time
is preferred or required along with experience in the makes and models of
the airplanes in use. These preferences are set by insurance dictates and
by company policies.
Many airlines have a favorable view of pilots who have Alaska bush flying
experience. A few hundred hours of Alaska bush flying can be a positive
influence towards securing a higher paying airline job. This is because
Alaska bush flying requires pilots to have excellent judgment and exceptional
stick and rudder skills, as they fly challenging terrain and weather
conditions and perform takeoffs and landings in all kinds of difficult
While it's true that airline flying has become highly automated, many
airlines recognize the importance of their pilots maintaining competency
with stick and rudder skills, especially in emergency situations.
Alaska bush flying provides the necessity to develop good judgment and
hone those skills. Airline flying can offer higher pay with greater job
stability, and Alaska bush flying can provide experience beneficial for
pilots who are interested in becoming airline pilots.
Alaska bush flying can be attractive for some pilots, but it may not
be a year-round option. For instance, some jobs, such as fly-out fishing lodges,
hunting lodges, and tourism-related Alaska flight operations, may only
operate full time seasonally. However, fly-out fishing lodges pay as much
as $12k or more per month (plus tips from their wealthy clients). Fly-out lodges
also include free room and board. The income from a mid-spring to mid-fall
season of fishing-lodge flying can amount to $50k or more. To be hired as a
fishing-lodge pilot can require as much as a thousand hours total time or
more with at least two hundred hours on floats as well as time in type. Time
in any of the following airplanes can be very helpful in getting a lodge job, i.e.
De Havilland beavers, turbine beavers, otters, turbine otters, and sometimes
Cessna 206s or 185s, and even Piper Super Cubs for some hunting lodges.
Many Alaska bush pilots are much appreciated members of the communities they
serve, transporting people, supplies, and equipment to locations where other
modes of transportation are not available. Over time, bush pilots can develop
close relationships with the people living in these areas who come to rely
on them for everything from medical evacuations to the delivery of mail and
essential goods. These connections provide a sense of fulfillment and purpose
beyond the simple fun of flying. Many bush pilots report feeling a real sense
of satisfaction from knowing that their work is making a tangible difference
in the lives of the people they serve. Alaska bush flying offers a unique
opportunity to build meaningful relationships with other pilots and with the
communities and individuals that depend on bush planes for their daily, weekly,
monthly or even yearly needs. For pilots who value connection and community,
This aspect of the job can be a major draw.
For those pilots who are not interested in airline flying, a career in Alaska
bush flying offers a unique and fulfilling experience that can be highly
rewarding both professionally and personally. Some pilots manage to do both,
flying the bush part time and flying the big jets on a schedule that works
I definitely enjoyed my Alaska bush flying career and was lucky enough to
experience every kind of flying I’ve mentioned plus a whole lot more. I had
lots of adventures, a few misadventures, some scary flights, thousands of beautiful
and enjoyable flights. I have many great friends to this day because
of my three+ decades as an Alaska bush pilot.
Take a look at some of my photos