Aidan Loehr of Oddball Pilot and Pat Goodrich of Island Air Express in Ketchikan, along with fellow flyer Cable Wells, recently fell on the subject of the finding that famous "first flying job in Alaska." The three casually swapped stories about flying in Southeast Alaska and how times have changed. Then it occurred to Loehr that their "back-in-my-day" talk could be useful to the unseasoned.
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 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 offseason, 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 work hard and don'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 another story, and you’re going to have to listen to the interview to get that one.
To do just that, click here to link back to Loehr's blog.