Becoming a Floatplane Pilot with Harbour Air Seaplanes
They say, if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. For those that choose to pursue a career as a floatplane pilot, the cockpit becomes their office and water cooler chats take place via a radio headset. From landing in the heart of bustling cities such as Vancouver and Victoria, to exploring off-the-grid remote areas along British Columbia’s (BC) coast, it’s all in a day’s work for a floatplane pilot at Harbour Air Seaplanes.
A passion for flying often develops at a young age. Some are inspired by family members involved aviation and others become enthralled after their first experience riding in the co-pilot seat. From the unforgettable moment of the turbine propeller engine starting, to the radio chatter with control tower echoing through the headset, to the floats lifting from the water runway – it’s a feeling that some want to relive over and over again. So what does it take to turn that childhood dream into a reality?
We caught up with Eric Scott, Harbour Air’s Vice President of Operations and Safety, to learn more about what it takes to become a floatplane pilot in BC. Eric has been with Harbour Air since 2011 but his professional flying career began much earlier when his passion for aviation was sparked in the fourth grade. This passion for flying has guided him into a well-established career with 31 years of flying experience and a number of high profile roles within the aviation industry. Eric’s repertoire includes soaring the friendly skies in a wide variety of aircraft including small Cessnas, DHC-2 de Havilland Beavers, DHC-3 Single Otters, BE 10 King Air, Beech 99, DHC-6 Twin Otters and Dornier 288. Eric has even had professional pilot training on fire bombing aircraft including the Piper Aerostar and the CL22 Super Scooper. With over 11,000 hours of flight time and over 7,000 hours of experience flying floats, Eric has done it all! We asked him a few questions about becoming a floatplane pilot and Harbour Air’s extensive training program.
Q: Including ground school training, on average, how long does it take to earn your Private and Commercial Pilots’ License?
Time to completion varies depending on what program you choose. There are degree and diploma programs available through universities and vocational schools. These programs vary from two to four years ending with diplomas or degrees. Flight Schools are another option for those who just want to complete their Commercial Pilots’ License. Full-time studies can be completed within one year.
Q: How many hours of flying are required to get your private and commercial license?
The minimum hour requirements for a Private Pilots’ License is 48 hours and 200 hours for a Commercial Pilots’ License.
Q: Once I have my Private and Commercial Pilots’ License, how do I get trained on floats?
There are several schools that can do float training. It is a minimum 7-hour endorsement to add to your license. I recommend taking a 50-hour course that covers more than the basic minimum. Harbour Air offers a 50-hour Advanced Floatplane Scholarship through the BC Aviation Council every year.
Q: What are Harbour Air’s requirements to work as a pilot on each aircraft type?
Harbour Air hires for four main pilot positions. All positions require a Commercial Pilots’ License with a float endorsement for licensing. The DHC-6 Twin Otter positions also require a multi-engine rating. These times are not reflective of pilots who come through our mentorship program where we have oversight of their training from day one. Pilots in that program will not have as high of requirements in some areas.
DHC-6 Twin Otter First Officer -250 TT
DHC-2 Beaver Captain -1000 TT 500 floats
DHC-3T Otter Captain -2500 TT, 1000 PIC, 1000 floats with min 500 of it PIC
DHC-6 Twin Otter Captain -5000TT, 3000 PIC, 5000 Floats or 2500 floats if 1000 on CAP floats.
Q: What is the hiring process to become a pilot with Harbour Air?
It starts with an interview with the Flight Operations team. Next, applicants take an online behavioral assessment test along with reference checks and practical flight evaluations. Lastly, pre-employment enhanced medical testing is conducted with drug and alcohol testing.
Q: What qualities and traits does Harbour Air look for in a professional floatplane pilot?
We have a long list of traits that we look for. First off, pilots need to be safety oriented. That is number one. We want flight crews with great attitudes that are team member and customer focused. Above all else, they must be diligent in doing the right thing. Skill wise, they need to have a calm demeanor. Things change quickly in a floatplane environment and the crews need to be able to quickly adapt to those changing conditions. Consciously smooth pilots that are always striving to give the customer the best ride possible.
Q: What is Harbour Air’s Pilot Mentorship Program?
For new pilots joining the program, Harbour Air has instituted a Pilot Mentorship Program that allows us, with a significant amount of training and ongoing oversight, to take a pilot right out of flight school (200 hrs) and train them to work in our starting position as a DHC-6 Twin Otter First Officer and, over time, advance them through all the higher flight crew positions.
Q: Can you take us through the steps of the training process between becoming a new commercial pilot with Harbour Air to advancing to a Twin Otter Captain?
The Harbour Air Pilot mentorship program takes a fresh commercial pilot and trains them to become a capable, confident and safe pilot. It starts with the hiring process as stated above, before they start into the program. All along the way they will have evaluations with targets of skill level they must meet to stay in the program.
- First Officer on the DHC-6 Twin Otter
- They start with a 10-hour pilot decision making program in the DHC-2 Beaver to evaluate their natural problem solving and decision-making process.
- Next they are trained as a First Officer on the DHC-6 Twin Otter where they will fly for a minimum of 500 hours while being mentored by our most highly experienced Captains.
- Training also involves regular written evaluations of their performance by the Captains which are submitted to the management team.
- DHC-2 Beaver Captain
- Once they surpass the 500 hours, and they have the blessing of the Captains as to their competency to be promoted, they get trained on the DHC-2 Beaver.
- Once the initial training program is completed, they are line indoctrinated and route checked with a training pilot for 30-50 hours or more until they are proficient enough to fly on their own.
- They will be restricted as to which routes they fly, and along the way they will have numerous spot line checks to ensure they are progressing and allow for expanded duties.
- After a minimum of 500 hours in the DHC-2 Beaver and a general satisfaction of the management team that the candidate is ready for further advancement, they will be trained on the DHC-3T Otter.
- DHC-3T Otter
- The training process is the same as on the DHC-2 but the line indoctrination will be a minimum of 50 hours. The restrictions after line indoctrination will be the same. Eventually they will be fully proficient and cut loose for any of our operations.
- DHC-6 Twin Otter Captain
- Advancement onto the DHC-6 Twin Otter Captain position usually goes to our most senior Captains and by then have all the necessary skills to take on the role which includes mentoring those junior pilots just starting out in the First Officer position. Full circle and usually takes about 8 years.
Q: Are the pilots required to do ongoing training or testing?
All the pilots are required to go through annual recurrent training. We also do mid-term line checks for added oversight.
Q: How many training captains are at Harbour Air and what is their flight experience?
We have six Training Captains at Harbour Air and an additional four in our Flight Operations management team. We also have a further 12 Line Indoctrination Captains that help out with line-oriented oversight. Cumulatively, between them all there is likely more than 400 years and 150,000 hours of flight experience.
Q: What does it take to become a training captain at Harbour Air?
To become a Training Captain at Harbour Air, you need to have a definite desire to drive our safety culture and a passion to bring out the best in people. You need to have the experience level that shows you have the knowledge to pass on.
Q: Harbour Air has an award-winning safety culture. How does Harbour Air maintain this standard and why is it so important?
Harbour Air is safety focused, from the top down, the culture is driven to be a professional airline and not a bush pilot operation. We have been internationally recognized by the Honorable Company of Air Pilots and Navigators for our safety culture and program. We accomplish this in many different facets. While we are not required by regulation, we have a mature safety management system with just culture reporting. What this means is we want people to report hazards or incidents non-punitively.
We don’t want a culture of fear that if the employee makes an honest mistake, that they need to be concerned about disciplinary action. This may lead to the employee covering up the issue that may be a fault of process or training deficiencies. If we don’t know about it, we can’t mitigate it, and it may lead to a more catastrophic event.
So, no matter how it happened, provided it is reported and there is no malicious or grossly negligent intent behind it, there will be no disciplinary action. This allows us to know what is happening, work to the root causes and work to mitigate them before they become further issues.
Q: Anything else?
I am proud of the culture we have at Harbour Air. It is always a work in progress that needs re-evaluating to ensure it isn’t becoming complacent. We want to always be able to get the job done, in the safest most efficient matter while never compromising the safety of our team members or passengers
Looking for a new office view? We’re always on the lookout for dedicated, safety orientated, and hard working team members to join our crew. Visit our careers page for our current job postings.