April 30, 2009

Native pilots in Alaska

Gaining Altitude in Numbers

By Alex DeMarbanThe number of Native pilots has come in waves since the first batch took advantage of the GI Bill after serving in World War II.

For some, it runs in the family. Fathers who learned to fly and founded airlines during that era passed along the skills and maybe even the business to their children.

Arctic Transportation Services and PenAir, both of Anchorage, as well as Vanderpool Flying Service out of Aniak, are all examples of family-owned Native companies.

But a recent surge of Native pilots has less to do with bloodlines and more to do with scholarships and training.

In the last decade, money to pay for flight training has come largely from regional Native nonprofits, such as the Association of Village Council Presidents, and fishing consortiums that receive a portion of profits from Bering Sea fishing to create jobs in villages, such as Coastal Villages Region Fund, pilots say.
Why Natives make better pilots:Natives make excellent pilots because they intimately know the land and weather they're flying in, says Bob Vanderpool, of Vanderpool Air. Vanderpool is a second-generation flier in his family-owned company.

"The local boys and girls that grew up in the woods in rural Alaska, they know the environment, they know the country, so I think that's a big plus, especially around Bethel," says Vanderpool, who is part Athabascan. "They travel by snowmachine between all the villages all their lives, when they're kids they're boating, so they know all the brush piles and where to go."

Home-grown pilots, as opposed to ones that are imported from the Lower 48, are also more likely to stay in Alaska, reducing the turnover that's often been a struggle for airlines.
Below:  "Lee Ryan says he owes his education to supportive nonprofits."

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