Bush flying through the more desolate parts of Africa remains a firm choice for pilots seeking raw, hands-on, unadulterated flying experience. Indeed, it has long been an attractive route for CPL holders fresh out of flight school looking to build up their flying hours. However, bush flying jobs have also managed to draw a sizable number of experienced airline pilots looking to escape the relative monotony of their work. Nowadays, there are opportunities for expat pilots in Africa with as little as 300 hours on a Cessna 208/210 or Beechcraft KA 100/200, although salaries remain somewhat low (ranging from $800 to $1700) for a joining co-pilot. Fitting to this theme, it raises the question: what challenges could one expect from a bush flying career in Sub-Saharan Africa?
‘The term ‘bush flying’ is used to describe aircraft services operating out of makeshift air fields, typically in remote locations. In many instances, ground infrastructure is poor or otherwise non-existent and flying conditions routinely quite basic. In the case of Africa, regional airline pilots are presented with a unique variety of occupational hazards. Not the least of these is the constant uncertainty in all aspects of flying, whether the pilot works for an emergency relief operation, on contract with outreach mining companies or charters tourist flights for foreign visitors,’ comments the CEO of AviationCV.com, Skaiste Knyzaite.
To place it in perspective, bush pilots might regularly contend with air fields that are nothing more than grassy woodland clearings. Additionally, the runway threshold could be marked with merely a few painted stones. If this wasn’t challenging enough, the standard lack of perimeter fencing means that roaming elephants, impala, or other wildlife present a very real hazard. Indeed, this may necessitate perhaps more than the one flyover to persuade them to vacate the landing strip, while sparking fear in disillusioned passengers. Even once the aircraft is safely on the ground, failure to surround the tires with thorn bushes may render them chewed to pieces by wondering hyenas and lions. However, as some pilots have reported, that alone won’t suffice in deterring a nearby elephant from wreaking havoc.
In addition, hazards may present themselves in the form of disappearing ground infrastructure. Pilots have recounted arriving at an airfield only to find the windsock and the pole it was attached to missing after merely days of it being re-erected. Being assured of the proficiency of flight reservation systems would also be inadvisable, according to several pilots who have had the misfortune of dealing with overbooked services. For instance, while passengers may be resolute in overloading the aircraft cabin like a local dala dala, this doesn’t coincide very well with unyielding restrictions on takeoff weight. Even aside from minor frustrations, the notoriously unpredictable weather prevalent in many parts of Africa again complicates matters, not simply because of flying conditions but the suitability of proposed landing terrain as well.
‘Routine is something bush pilots in Africa can be sure to avoid. For example, a morning flight might involve the delivery of pork products to expats living in an Islamic subdivision while the return trip could see the carriage of extensive weaponry. Expat pilots working in the region may also be exposed to the dangers of war, banditry, substandard maintenance as well as a host of diseases including hepatitis, malaria, Ebola and dysentery to name but a few. Indeed, while there are numerous nonstandard challenges facing the expat bush pilot, the rewards and experience gained are priceless. For those considering a flying career in the region, several flight crew leasing agencies such as AviationCV.com are well positioned to offer an intermediary service that can provide the opportunity of work while ensuring that fundamental aspects concerning pilot safety and suitability of living conditions are met,’ comments Skaiste Knyzaite, CEO of AviationCV.com.