A bush pilot plays a very different role to most other pilots, but it can be a very rewarding job, especially if you’re more of an adventurous person.

To become a bush pilot, you need to have logged 500 flight hours, hold commercial and instrument pilot’s certificates, obtain a high-performance endorsement, as well as an A&P license.

Having said that, commercial bush pilot operators have different requirements, but a commercial pilot license and endorsement or rating for the aircraft you will be operating are necessary at a minimum.

Bush Pilot Qualifications

  • Commercial Pilot License: A commercial pilot license only requires 190-250 flights (depending on if you are enrolled in a Part 141 or Part 61 flight school), but 500 hours is typically required to become a bush pilot due to the more challenging nature of the role.
  • Instrument Rating: Due to not being able to rely on Visual Flight Rules, an instrument rating is required.
  • High Performance Rating: A high performance rating is required to act as pilot in command (PIC) of an airplane with an engine capable of producing over 200 horsepower, which most planes that bush pilots operate are.
  • A&P License: An A&P License may not always be necessary, but being certified in aviation maintenance is certainly a plus due to the nature of bush flying where things can go wrong with the plane.

Bush Pilot Training

If you want to become a bush pilot, you can’t just jump into bush flying and become job ready as soon as you have earned your qualifications.

You still need to undergo commercial bush-pilot training, which is available through flight-training facilities around North America.

You will receive instruction in tailwheel, float, tundra tire, or ski and glacier operations.

Even after this, you still have to start at an entry-level position that may not initially involve much flying.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Bush Pilot?

If you’re starting from scratch and dedicate yourself to full-time training, it is possible to become a bush pilot in 2-3 years, including completing flight training, ground school, and written and practical tests.

What Does a Bush Pilot Do?

A bush pilot flies aircraft in rough terrain to deliver people and supplies into difficult to reach, remote locations.

Due to the nature of flying “in the bush”, there usually aren’t any prepared landing strips or runways, which requires a different skill set to most other pilot roles.

Bush Pilots Work “In the Bush”

Bush pilots work out “in the bush”, which means a natural undeveloped area that may consist of sparsely-inhabited regions, outside urban areas in the wilderness, encompassing grasslands, swamplands, as well as forests.

Bush flying is common in Canada, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Bush Planes Are Unique

As bush pilots fly in rough, remote locations and terrains, bush planes are equipped with tundra tires, floats, or skis.

Bush planes need to have excellent short take-off and landing capabilities, with conventional “tail-dragger” landing gear, and high mounted wings to ensure that there is enough ground clearance from obstacles.

The most common bush planes include:

  • Grumman G-21 Goose
  • De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
  • De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter
  • Cessna 185 Skywagon
  • Piper PA-18 Super Cub

Bush Planes Are Harder to Fly

Planes used for bush flying aren’t necessarily harder to fly themselves, but due to the nature of the flying and the conditions in which bush planes are operated in, it is harder to fly a bush plane.

This is especially true when it comes to landing, as prepared landing strips or runways can’t be relied upon.

Bush Pilots Are Adaptable

Due to the nature of bush flying, bush pilots are typically more experienced and have undergone more training than other pilots.

So, a bush pilot is qualified to fly most airplanes out there and if they decide to leave the bush flying world, they will have no problem landing another more conventional pilot role.

Bush Pilot Salaries Vary

A bush pilot can make anywhere from $30,000 to over $100,000 a year.

As with most other jobs, how much a bush pilot earns depends on their experience, with more seasoned bush pilots being able to command six figures a year, especially when flying in locations like Alaska.

Bush Pilot Job Outlook

It’s hard to say what the job outlook for bush pilots is in the future, as it’s quite an unconventional role.

However, if you do a job search, you will find that there are positions to be filled, and as bush pilots have the qualifications and training to fly other aircraft, they will always be able to find another pilot role.

Pros of Becoming a Bush Pilot

  • Adventure: There’s a certain level of romanticism and adventure associated with bush flying. While it can often be exaggerated, bush flying can sure beat more conventional flying, especially for those who are more adventurous.
  • Improves Your Skills: Bush flying requires a different skill set to most other pilot roles, so you will get the opportunity to improve your flying skills.
  • Rewarding: The duties of a bush pilot can vary, but if you’re transporting people and supplies to difficult to reach, remote locations, or are performing medical evacuations, it can be very rewarding knowing that you are responsible for having made that happen.

Cons of Becoming a Bush Pilot

  • Dangerous: Due to flying in difficult to reach, remote locations, bush flying can be dangerous – definitely more dangerous than more conventional flying roles.
  • Weather Conditions: Flying in Alaska, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, in Australia, results in extreme weather conditions that most people won’t find enjoyable.
  • Pay: When just starting out and even after having gained some experience, you will still likely be paid less than working for other commercial operators. Bush pilots will never be paid as much as airline pilots, who can command salaries in excess of $300,000.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.