Alaska Bush Pilots
Project info

With a little bit more than 700,000 people, Alaska is the 3rd least populous yet the largest state of the United States of America. Anchorage is the state's largest city, and with almost 300,000 people, it makes it the most populated region of the 49th State.

Alaska's economy is dominated by fishing and natural gas and oil industries; and with fewer than 12,000 miles of paved roads crossing its territory, aviation is a vast necessity out there. Alaska has six times as many pilots and sixteen times as many aircraft per capita than any other region in the U.S. And despite this huge amount of pilots, Alaska has been experiencing a pilot shortage since 2016.

Anchorage has two major airports, Merrill Field and the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport; but many of these aircraft will never land on the paved roads of these or any airport in their lives.

Early in April I traveled there for 12 days to document the bush pilots' working lifestyle, especially their close relationship with their aircraft. Bush Flying is the closest I've been to experiencing absolute freedom, and with planes buzzing day and night over my head, it was easy to felt drawn towards them.

Most of these pilots have given their backs to the big airlines in order to fly as they please, without extensive regulations. Their business model is simple, being a reliable mean of transportation for the needs of the people from the region and tourists as well. This includes bringing supplies to even a corpse with some relatives through the mountains for a funeral in a specific area of the region.

Landscape in Alaska changes on a daily basis, and being a Bush Pilot basically means that they are skilled enough to land and takeoff from anywhere but a decent runway. This requires some nerve-killing skills in order to land in true wilderness, from frozen lakes, to river bottoms and beaches, to mountain tops and sandbars.

Perhaps they'll be earning more money by flying for commercial airlines, but for these wild pilots that is not their main priority, they instead prefer to have freedom for flying without restrictions. The region has only 1% of its land privatized, giving them 99% of land to explore. Some of them decide to go away for days or weeks to no man's land, and they know that when they return, there will always be someone or something that needs to be flown.

Alaska is bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined, and Bush Pilots are the ones that keep it moving, due to flying by feelings instead of by numbers or the books.