Hello! So - this post is totally late, but I swear, I'll make it up to you...
Helicopter Pilot. This job is tough - no lie. Whether you're fighting fires, flying a news/traffic chopper, doing search and rescue, piloting tourists, or even heli-logging, this job requires guts AND brains. You have to be willing to travel at the drop of a hat, hover dangerously close to the ground, and expertly maneuver through mountains. These pilots make life and death decisions in under a second, and do it all without anyone else on board even realizing...
Now - I don't mean to make the position of pilot sounds ominous, or overly dramatic - but it is a pretty cool position to have!
Stuart Baxter of Britannia Beach Heli Tours showed me both the business and the flying side of the helicopter industry.
Lesson #1: To work as a pilot, you have to be patient! The industry can only handle so many positions, and if you're going to get one of the coveted spots you're going to have to pay your dues, sweep some hanger floors, and be ready to step-up when your time eventually comes. To be considered a competent pilot you have to have a certain number of flying hours under your belt. It's a bit of a catch-22, as companies won't hire you unless you have a certain number of hours, but unless you're working - how are you supposed to fly?! To get these hours you have to either pay a decent amount of money to rent a machine, or find someone willing to let you get your hours on theirs.
Patience also comes in in regards to maintenance. Maintaining a helicopter is integral to...well...lives, really! Things have to run, and they have to run properly! And it takes time to get every part in it's place and running smooth.
Patience ALSO comes in regards to customers/clients and a new business. Britannia Beach Heli Tours is only in it's second summer of business, so things were a little slow. The heli-pad, however, is strategically placed on the side of the highway and perfect for tourists making the trip between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. We got a lot of traffic off the road, as well as by word of mouth.
Lesson #2: I would say the next most important lesson I learned, and this is more in regards to running a new business, but marketing is key. To get the word out there, you have to beat down doors, make those phone calls, and brainstorm like mad. Stuart's a genius at this, and we spent many-a-time thinking up new ways to entice customers into a helicopter ride. ie: clown costumes, bus tour stops, and good 'ol magnets! ;)
On Thursday, we even entertained a group of 3 and 4 year-old kids from a summer camp and taught them all about helicopters. It was pretty cool to see their faces light up, and compete for a position to sit in the pilot seat. Maybe a One Week Job program will start for kids that age?!
Stuart loves the variety that comes with the job. So many avenues to go down - so many views to see! No trip is ever the same, whether it's simply the weather, the landscape, or the people you're flying with.
As far as my career future goes, however - I'm not sure that Heli Pilot is actually in the cards. I had a great time flying (did you SEE the video?!), and it was really gratifying to see guests so excited to go up and take their first ride. I think my mind was kind of still in 'Event-Planning/Marketing Mode' from Week 5 though, as at every turn I tried to find a way to help create more business for the company. And to be honest, I'm not sure I have the technical know-how to fly on a daily basis. I'm also not sure I want the responsibility of keeping others safe while soaring thousands of feet above the ground...
But here's the kicker...the feeling of soaring, the feeling of freedom when you're above everything else...the feeling of adventure...wow. That feeling is a passion in itself.
On my last day, after expertly cleaning the windows (!), Stu took the door of the helicopter OFF for me to take pictures! I was nervous, but totally excited and in absolute AWE of what I got to take in. Words and pictures can't do the scenes justice, but I am so grateful for the time I got to spend both in the air and on the ground at Britannia Beach. The mountains, the ocean, the wind...amazing.
A HUGE thanks to Stu and crew - I really appreciate your hospitality and the opportunity to see the world from such heights.