A bush pilot flies small propeller aircraft (single and twin-engine) to remote locations across Canada; often in challenging flying conditions and with a minimum of ground support. As a result, such pilots typically use aircraft that are known to be rugged and easy to fix, and with the ability to work on rough unpaved landing strips. They fly a mix of missions transporting passengers, freight or a combination of both.
Depending on their operating territories, a bush pilot may use an aircraft equipped with wheels, skis, floats (for landing on water) or a mixture of all three. The most popular aircraft tend to be proven older models with analog gauges and basic instruments, such as the de Havilland Beaver and Twin Otter. Although communications have improved due to satellite-connected radios, a bush pilot can expect to be flying on their own; relying on their skills and knowledge much of the time.
A bush pilot’s chief duty is to fly their passengers/cargo from one point to another, doing their best to make the flight as safe as possible. Typically, they work for small companies offering both charter and scheduled services; often to isolated communities without road or railway access.Some bush pilots fly alone; others with the help of a second pilot, depending on the aircraft.
The profession of bush pilot is well-suited to someone who can think creatively in unexpected situations and comfortable working with a minimum of outside support/supervision. A willingness to work unusual hours and an enjoyment of outdoor living are assets, plus hands-on mechanical skills for making small repairs as needed.
Unlike airline pilots, bush pilots don’t have a predictable career path. Many work their way up to larger and more complex aircraft; learning the trade with a goal of owning their own bush air operation in the future. That said, people with bush piloting skills combined with enough flying hours can be very attractive to airlines.
How to Learn
The key to becoming a bush pilot starts with getting your private pilot’s licence. The traditional way to learn to fly is by enrolling at a flight school; either close to home or in another location. Training is usually full or part-time based on the student’s personal schedule, the training program and financial resources. The learning includes in-class training (ground school) and in-aircraft training (flight training), in preparation for earning their Air Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL) through testing.
Flight hours also matter. They are the amount of time the student spends flying. Many aviation jobs require licenced pilots to have accumulated a specific minimum amount of flight hours before they will be considered for employment.
Across Canada, community colleges and universities are now teaching students to fly on a full-time or part-time basis; often in partnership with local flight schools. This option can offer an aspiring pilot a faster route to their licence, by fitting more education and training into a shorter time. But unless the student has access to some form of educational subsidies, the cost will be comparable over time to the flight school.
Aspiring bush pilots should contact companies that offer bush flying services along with flight schools. This will give them a chance to build a relationship while training to be a pilot that may lead to employment once they graduate. Additional training in the use of skills and floats will likely be required by prospective bush flying employers. New pilots should contact those companies that interest them to find out their exact requirements and minimum flying hours required.
After earning their Integrated ATPL, a new bush pilot may need to build up their flight hours before applying for a job.
To earn these hours, many new pilots work as flight instructors for one-three years. Others start in entry-level positions at bush flight companies; building up flight hours when they can until they reach an acceptable minimum.
The good news (from an employment standpoint) is that there is a growing pilot shortage both in Canada and around the world. Since bush pilots are now being snapped up to fly at airlines, there is a pressing need for new blood in the field.
Typically, an entry level position as a bush pilot is $30,000-$40,000 a year. More seasoned bush pilots are generally paid $72,000-$96,000 a year.
Depending on the educational choice, training to be a bush pilot can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $75,000. These costs are for the basic training and Integrated ATPL.
Some provinces do offer subsidies/grants to help students pay for pilot training. Student loans may also be available from financial institutions.
Need More Information?
Visit the Pilot Career Centre Canada for information about about flight training, how to choose a flight school and listing of schools across Canada.
The Government of Canada also offers guidance on how to select a flight school and the steps needed to start training.