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So you want to be a bush pilot?

Story and photos by KAVIV MOMOH – first published spring 1998

Bush pilot Kaviv Momoh

The first Beaver I flew belonged to Five Mile Lake Lodge in Chapleau, Ontario. Rarely do Beavers have dual controls, and my boss Henrik Saari sat nervously in the right seat while trusting a stranger with the machine. Later, I was hired by Ernie Nicholl, owner of Huron Air in Armstrong, Ontario. Devotees of classic aircraft, the Nicholls operate two Beavers, an Otter, a Norseman, a Super Cub and an Aero Commander.

BUSH FLYING. WHAT’S IT LIKE? It’s a side of aviation everyone’s heard of, a career path many of us would like to know more about. Unfortunately, we don’t all live in places where floatplanes are common.

As I learned a few years ago, float flying is definitely an exciting, fun way to earn your keep as a pilot. There are many different types of work available to a float-endorsed pilot, from hauling minnows in a Super Cub to battling blazing forests in a modern CL‑415 water bomber. In 1997, I switched roles from flying my employer’s guests to and from secluded outpost cabins to contract and charter flying on a slightly larger scale.

The daily grind
For the most part, there are two kinds of businesses that operate floatplanes in this part of the country. One is a lodge or outfitter, which uses a plane to supply its own tourism camps. The other is a charter operator, which doesn’t own any camps but flies for hire instead (like an airline). With an outfitter the pilot tends to be on a much more personal level with the customers, often making many friends and earning the occasional tip. On the other hand, charter flying tends to be not quite as personal, but provides more variety in destinations.

When offered a position, I jumped at the chance to work for my employer–Huron Air. It isn’t a large company–four pilots and five commercial aircraft–but it is very busy and efficiently run; most importantly, safety is always the top priority. This company, like many others in the float flying business, provides comfortable and properly equipped housing for the pilots. This arrangement frees you from having to pay rent (although it also keeps you on the base and available for work). In return for accommodation and a good salary, you are expected to treat the machines as if they were your own, always be professional and courteous and work your hardest.

Tourism is a very big industry in northern Ontario. Each year, thousands of hunting and fishing enthusiasts drive up from the United States for week-long vacations. Although Huron Air doesn’t own any outpost camps, tourism still forms a large portion of the work. One large lodge and several outfitters are Huron’s main customers. They don’t have aircraft of their own, so they hire the air service to fly their guests in and out. This arrangement makes things easier for everyone: the air service doesn’t have to deal with camps, the outfitter doesn’t have to deal with the intricacies of running an air service, and the pilots have only airplane-related duties.

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