Different Places, Different Spaces,
If you have had the chance to enjoy a flying career as long as I have, you will realize that aviation opens a window on humanity that few are privileged to gaze through or experience. Flying within different types of operations exposes one to different elements in the global structure and not just the aviation world but the world as a whole. I will relate to you a few generalizations I have come to believe reflect a number of realities within the aviation context. There is a degree of subjectivity, there always is in any one person’s experience.
In light aircraft charter flying, you may fly eccentric passengers who may be personally demanding, or you may have out of the box experiences occur like flying a well known politician or rock star. I have flown media stars and murders in that line of operations, and did I mention Prime Ministers?
In the airline world, there are the more popular destinations in your life, along with all those things that make them “destinations” in the first place. Theatres, sports events, five star hotels, concierges, airport security, finer eateries etc., are all part of that life. Big airplanes, and along with that big pay, and sometimes big egos with a sense of entitlement to go with it, that is the airline world. Hard work too!
The freight flying end has more of a truck driving air about it. Loading old cargo ships that have seen better days, but now live life on dark and rainy nights on remote corners of airports and heard in the distance while trying to sleep. The people who operate in this sphere are generally good natured and hard working and are the invisible backbone of a working society marked with deadline and “JIT” just in time delivery. There is an equality among workers here, pilots, truck drivers, fuellers etc., all working to the same end. Pilots are often paid less than others they come in contact with nightly.
Flight instruction has an element of extremes in it. The students are most often idealistic about the future, and their flight instructor often apprehensive about his/her own prospects is sometimes less idealistic or optimistic. Flight instruction is the bottom rung of the aviation working world and shouldn’t be. Most instructors are in that role to build flight time to get another job that pays better or operates better equipment, that being bigger and faster airplanes that fly higher. Instructors often have little more experience than those they teach. Pilots first become pilots because they want to fly, not to watch others do it for them. It is also said in the instructor field, flying is 95% boredom, and 5% sheer terror. However there are some career instructors who love to teach, and love their students, and, are great pilots in their own right. God bless them, as they are only a few in the industry who are in that camp. We need as many as possible to inhabit that territory.
Private corporate aviation is generally a great gig if you can get it. It often involves flying well heeled families on their business trips and holidays. If you have watched Downtown Abbey, replace the car with a jet, and you get the picture. The owners are usually extremely nice people who want to stay out of the limelight, building their business and their families like the rest of us. You get to go where they go, and get a little glimmer of what might life be like on the other side of the tracks, or shall I say the airport. I do that now, but have occupied most of the roles as listed in this blog
The Canadian bush pilot, might be the mail man, the grocery deliverer the hunting and fishing expert, but most always resilient. There is a TV series although often technically in error, does most of the time reflect the nature of those who are living in that area of the industry. CBC airs this aviation drama set in Yellowknife called “Arctic Air”. As I have flown most types shown in the TV series such as the venerable Dc-3, and is set the same area I had flown in for many years. I can vouch for the overall veracity of that program, which is refreshingly un-American in its style and story line presentation. Well done CBC and Arctic Air.
There are medevac operations which I have only limited experience operating. The long haul type operation of air ambulance often involves flight nearer the edge of the flight envelop, with direct routings filed and received and the aircraft flown at max speed, and sometimes landing with preciously little fuel left at the end of the journey. Often flown in the middle of the night, irregular sleep patterns and different routings to varied destinations are the norm. More for the young, or at least the young at heart.
I did some medevac as a part of the mission flying I had done in the South Pacific a few years back.
I worked for a mission aviation organization that has roots throughout the developing world. Similar I suppose to bush flying in the Canadian North, but dissimilar in motives compared to most commercial aviation operations.
I took an early retirement from an airline job where I was flying as an Airbus Captain, and I took a huge pay cut to enter into a type of life whose rewards are not of this Earth in any real way. When you join, you join with the idea of helping others more directly, and building relationships with people which I believe will last an eternity. I ended up in Papua New Guinea for a while based mostly in the Wewak area, and operating along the north coast and south into the head waters of the Sepik River well into the Hunstein Mountains. I met many great and many interesting people in my time while in PNG. Made some friends too.
One such friend was a man named Bonn whom I had met while in service in Papua New Guinea. Bonn was raised in a remote village and through some Australian folks was given a chance to leave the village to pursue an education. This would allow him to return to PNG after completing this higher education and mentor the people of his homeland.
When I met Bonn he was working for the IT department of the mission based in Mount Hagen. Initially he was quiet and circumspect when dealing with me, a pilot from Canada, but in time we grew to know each other as close friends. Bonn came out of the jungle as a teenager, never having worn shoes, or crossed an intersection with a traffic light, let alone use a pay phone, or so many of the other things we in our daily lives take for granted.
Things have changed for Bonn, as I just got off a Skype video call with him. He is an articulate and passionate man, especially about his people. Bonn has watched many pilots and people come and go from his land near Down Under, and he has made some startling but valid observations about us mission types.
On such observation was that all expats leave, eventually, if even in a pine box. They go home, and the nationals remain behind to live out their lives, hopefully have been improved upon by your mission presence in their land, but sometimes not. White people can be condescending and patronizing towards the people they have come to help, and not even know it! There is an ongoing need for the expats to partner as equals in the enterprises created to help them, and not just to subjugate them.
I remember being chastised by one of my peers for wanting to train nationals on how to drive the mission vehicles, and was reminded by another missionary that these folks grew up in tree houses and huts, like Bonn. I was ashamed that our view of their limitations was so significant. I taught them anyway, and then I taught a couple on how to use computers and internet! “What was I thinking?” some other long term missionary remarked. “Did I not know that they might stumble upon porn or some other Western ill?” Some of the nationals I trained now contact me via email just to say hi, and give me an update about the land I once flew in, and these people I still call friends.
In the end the aviation world is about the people, the humanity, not just the technology of the machine. Most of my favourite memories about my aviation world were shared with like minded people. Through drifting snows, or roasting in a hot summer’s cockpit, or splashing in the rain puddles, or dodging thunderstorms, different places, in different spaces, life on the flight line lived and shared with beloved faces. It’s about the people, always has been. Sounds maybe like a Country and Western song….
Wewak Town is a song about the lost and the hope of Wewak