When your dad is a weekend warrior pilot, flying airplanes was something I took for granted. I always enjoyed flying, but I never gave much thought to it as a career.
“You got any plans for what you want to do when you graduate?” asked my high school counsellor. “Um…well, maybe a pilot?” I said, just throwing it out there. “Great!” he replied. “There will always be a demand to fly people around!” That was pretty much all the career advice I recall receiving.
I already had my Private Pilots Licence obtaining that in grade 11. Fresh out of ideas for a career to pursue and thoroughly bored with College I decided to follow my older brother and pursue my Commercial Licence.
The ink was still wet on my Commercial Pilot Licence as I set out on road trips in pursuit of that illusive first flying job. I drove all over only to come up empty handed. I had just returned home from handing out resumes for ramp jobs at YVR resigning myself to another summer of toiling on the ramp when the phone rang.
It was my brother with an offer of a ramp gig at his new company up in Inuvik, someone had just quit and there was an opening. I put the phone down and re packed my 1989 Chevrolet S10 Blazer for the long drive north. The Blazer was the perfect road trip machine, I could flop the back seat down and roll my sleeping bag out. This saved me from paying for hotel rooms but it might have cost me a few job opportunities. I probably didn’t make a great first impression rolling out of the back of a truck looking like a vagrant. This time however it didn’t matter, I was in at a company who moved new pilots off their ramp and into airplanes.
After a few months and a visit from Transport Canada I was given the opportunity to fly, the Chief Pilot tossed the Cessna 207 Pilot Operating handbook at me and said “read this we will go flying in a few days”.
Training complete and with minimal time on the mighty Kansas City crowed killer as the Cessna 207 was nicknamed I was ready to start getting paid to fly. My first assignment was to haul one passenger and a ton of gear up the Mackenzie Delta to Tuktoyuktuk. Since this was my first paid flight as a real pilot, the boss decided to send a guy named Chris along to make sure I didn’t screw up. Chris was a big guy who was only about a month older than I was, but he had a real pilot voice on the radio and at least a season or two of experience more than I did.
We jammed all the heaviest stuff in the nose compartment between the firewall and the cockpit and piled the rest in the back. As we took off heading for Tuktoyuktuk, the weather was overcast with a layer at about 800 feet and the visibility variable 1-3 miles.
As we flew over the Mackenzie Delta, I stayed just beneath the overcast cloud layer. Chris asked me “Why are you so high?” I explained my rationale that if my engine quit, I would have more time to find a landing spot. He looked at me and then out then window, and said “it doesn’t matter how much time you have when there’s only muskeg and mosquitoes down there”. He then told me drop down to 500 feet. I did as he instructed and immediately understood exactly why. My visibility was much greater, I could now see a lot further forward, giving me the ability to plot my route around the lower scud much easier.
The flight was uneventful – we unloaded the passenger and sent him on his way. As we began walking back to the plane we heard a voice yell “Hey wait!” Turning around we saw a man who had heard us fly in and asked us for a lift back to Inuvik.
I was just about to say, “Let me call dispatch to find out how much the charge was” when Chris blurted out “Sure we will take you, 200 bucks!” The guy whipped out two brown bills and said “Great! Let me grab my bag”.
I was thinking that 200 dollars didn’t sound right for a charter flight, but I had to focus and get this thing heading in the right direction. Chris shut off the GPS and made me map-read the whole way home.
About half way home now comfortable with my ability to navigate home I said to Chris, “Don’t you think 200 bucks is a little off the charter rate? Won’t the boss be mad?”
Chris looked at me like a second head had grown out of my neck and said chuckling. “Jesus, you are new, ain’t ya? Lesson one: get paid when you can!” He looked over his shoulder to see that the passenger sleeping and then he then slipped me one brown bill.
Get paid when you can!
Not long after, the company I was flying for was shut down by Transport Canada. So although I didn’t get a ton of flying that first year, I learned a lot from the other pilots and a little about the business of getting paid to fly.