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How to make money flying planes in Alaska (+ VIDEO)

  • Author: Matt Keller
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published September 9, 2013

How to become a pilot? How to become a commercial pilot? How to get a job once you are a commercial pilot?

These are obviously pretty huge questions with numerous answers and angles to pick from. I'm old enough to have squeezed nearly 5000 flight hours under my belt, but young enough to remember how I got here. I have worked hard since I was 18 years old so that I could make a living flying an airplane, and it has been a challenging road, just like any profession. Some of the success' in my life are a result of hard work, but many are the result of other people's generosity in my life, and my proximity to good situations. There is no doubt that I feel blessed to be where I am at.

The good news is that being a pilot is a really great job that seldom gets dull. The bad news is that it's such a great job there is a lot of competition. For every person who wants to fly, there is somebody else who wants it more. The competition is fierce among pilots, and especially in commercial operations. If you are considering the possibility of becoming a pilot keep in mind that not everybody who "wants" to fly "ought" to fly. Just like, not everybody who wants to race NASCAR ought to race NASCAR.

I believe there are a few attributes necessary for success as a pilot. The three that come to mind are eye-hand coordination, ability to multi-task, and most importantly, the ability to make good decisions under stress. Some of this is learned, but much of it is inherent. I've often said, "You could teach a monkey to fly". It's true, I think you could, but I don't think a monkey could land very well, and I am certain the monkey would fail "decision making 101". Flying the plane is the easy part, but honestly … a pilot is a decision maker. There are simply too many variables and changing scenarios for a concrete plan to work out every time. Unexpected decisions based on fuel consumption, altitude, weight, weather, visibility, passengers, external stresses, mechanical issues, and a host of other unknown variables creep in on a daily basis, and a pilot needs to react appropriately. It's really very similar to any other portion of your life but the stakes are much higher because of a little thing called "gravity".

Before we launch into the more specific "how tos" of becoming a certified pilot I will quickly mention that there are two different roads you can take. You can attend an FAA approved school (Federal Aviation Regulation part 141), or you can find any local flight instructor at a nearby airport (FAR part 61).

The requirements are basically the same, but the part 141 flight schools are generally more streamlined, and better organized than private individuals. I actually earned my private pilots license in Palmer, Alaska, right after high school (Part 61), then I attended a part 141 flight school three years later and did all the same training again. Then I instructed at the Palmer airport as a Part 61 instructor, and later I instructed at a part 141 school in Hawaii.

My observation after receiving and giving instruction under both parts 61 and 141 is that schools are better. And while the price tag of the schools may seem more expensive upfront I believe it is a better education, done at a faster pace, for maximum efficiency.

The only exception to this is if you can afford to buy a small plane and do all of your flight training in your own aircraft. This is an ideal scenario but few can afford this option.

Matthew Keller is the owner and operator of Blue Ice Aviation. He was born and raised in Alaska and his office is the cockpit of his Super Cub. His goal is to transport everyone into Alaska's vast wilderness. See more of his videos and writing here.