A bush pilot may be defined as one who flies a small, customized aircraft into remote global areas, where other means of transport are not available. Most people have the impression from Hollywood that bush pilots merely fly from grass or dirt runways to serve remote areas and lead carefree lives. During the course of this blog, we will see the life of the bush pilot contrasts with their popularized image.
The first bush pilots were used to support oil exploration in Canada in the early 1920s. As a result of their success, they were soon operating within 100 miles of the Arctic Circle. Demand for their services also increased due to a concurrent gold boom. They soon assumed other roles, such as charting undeveloped territories, fire fighting and medical evacuation. However, as regular air service and highway construction began to develop during the 1930s, the need for bush pilots experienced a gradual decline.
The training program for bush pilots is quite intense, as it takes about one year to complete both the Private Pilots License (PPL), as well as the Commercial Pilots License (CPL). Additionally, if you are flying passengers, you wiil need an Air Traffic Pilots License (ATPL). Part-time study can take as long as five years, with total instruction costs in the $10,000 to $50,000 range. During training, the pilot must be prepared to deal with conditions of inclement weather, ranging from removing ice during freezing weather to changing tires in extreme heat. Since the bush pilot operates away from maintainence facilities, he must often serve as a mechanic, as well as a pilot. Upon completion of the CPL, the candidate qualifies for specific training as a bush pilot, in which they learn to fly planes equipped with floats, skis or tundra wheels. This training usually takes from 10 to 14 hrs. (combined ground and flight training), covering mountain flying to landings on high altitude lakes and rivers – valuable for any pilot operating in off-airport conditions.
Bush pilots operate in the most diverse conditions – ranging from snow covered mountains to tropical storms and mud soaked runways and sleep on anything between their plane and the great outdoors. They are often the only connection between remote global areas and the outside world. Bush pilots usually fly into and out of areas considered too dangerous or impossible for regular air service, at a rate of pay considerably less than commercial airline pilots. Perhaps the two most essential qualities of a bush pilot are the love of aviation and the spirit of adventure.