Float Planes

How to become a Bush pilot?

Bush pilots operate in remote areas worldwide with little operational support. Career success and survival require extraordinary flying skills, self-reliance and resourcefulness, and above all, the right attitude, say bush pilots Glen Ferguson and Keith Saulnier. They represent the two bush-pilot career paths: missionary aviation and commercial operations. Saulnier owns Georgian Bay Airways in Parry Sound, Ontario, which offers a Career Bush Pilot Program, and Ferguson is CEO of the International Association of Missionary Aviation (IAMA), whose 60-some member organizations include mission-aviation fellowships and colleges with mission-aviation programs. Here are their tips for becoming a bush pilot.

What aircraft do bush pilots fly?

The commercial fleet ranges from Piper Cubs through Cessna Caravans (many on floats), along with vintage de Havilland Beavers and piston and turbine Otters. Taildraggers are widely used.

Missionary aviation “is moving to turbine aircraft” due to declining avgas availability, says Ferguson: Quest Kodiacs, Pilatus Porters and PC-12s, and Caravans. “When airstrips get too short, then we put in helicopters.”

What training and experience do bush pilots need?

Missionary aviation typically requires a minimum of 500 hours of flight experience, commercial and instrument pilot’s licenses, and a high-performance endorsement, as well as an A&P license. With the mission fleet moving to heavier, tricycle gear aircraft, a tailwheel endorsement is no longer mandatory.

Requirements among commercial operators vary but include a CPL and endorsement or rating in whatever type platform you’ll operate, and experience flying in the area you’ll be working.

Where is training available?

Commercial bush-pilot training is available through flight-training facilities offering instruction in float, tailwheel, tundra tire, or ski and glacier operations. U.S. pilots trained and certified in Canada can receive FAA approval through a Foreign License Validation Certificate (FLVC).

More than a dozen colleges and universities have ab initio mission-aviation programs. To help offset the high program costs, schools are investigating a forgivable loan-assistance program that writes off part of the loan for each year flying overseas, Ferguson says.

How do pilots get hired?

“You have to start at an entry-level position, and in the bush that usually entails a lot of loading and unloading of airplanes, ” says Saulnier. “Very rarely will people jump into the left seat in a medium-size aircraft in any category.” Additional practical skills enhance employability. “If you’re a wrench (an A&P), a plumber or an electrician, or a computer programmer who can help put up a website or post content on social media, you’ll make a better [job] candidate, ” Saulnier says.

Missionary-aviation organizations conduct 10-day technical-evaluation courses to determine an applicant’s piloting and mechanic skills — and attitude. “You don’t want the bad apple who only wants to fly airplanes, ” said Ferguson. “They need to plug in to the bigger mission.” Those accepted return for orientation and to buff their skills before posting overseas.

What does the job entail?

Missionary aviators support a broad range of faith-based objectives that often involve helping isolated people in remote locations. Pilots and A&Ps operate under duty limits. They serve in their assigned location for four years and take one year off. “Then most people go back to the same place or move on to somewhere else, and spend another four years on location, ” Ferguson said.

Commercial bush pilots perform “a lot of camp work” — hauling supplies and people to remote sites. Work might support tourism, resource industries or public agencies, and can be seasonal.

How much do bush pilots earn?

Salaries for commercial bush pilots vary widely. Starting pay might be $2, 500 per month, while more-seasoned pilots operating larger equipment can earn $6, 000 to $8, 000 per month or more, Saulnier says. Average mean wage for commercial pilots of nonscheduled operators is about $85, 000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Missionary pilots fund their own expenses and salary, an amount typically ranging between $4, 000 and $6, 000 per month, through self-developed donor networks.

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Source: www.flyingmag.com