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Photo: aktraildog

Being a paid pilot is not always as romantic as the movies portray.

SOME PILOTS REFER TO it as being a glorified taxi driver. Many pilots flying small to medium-sized aircraft in order to log hours for jobs on the big airliners and cargo planes become bored with the monotony of prescribed routes and flight plans and give it up. Then there is the passionate pilot who loves the adventure of flying in adverse conditions. The pilot who wants a challenge, and not interested in earning a fat salary. A Bush Pilot.

Bush Pilots all over the world have earned their respect from fellow pilots. There is a reason for this. To be a Bush Pilot, you do not fly by the numbers. Most of the time you do not use registered airfields or any airfields at all! It requires seat-of-the-pants flying in adverse conditions. At first glance, it looks downright dangerous and scary. With the right training, it is neither.

Realities of being a Bush Pilot

1. You’ll be away from home for extended periods.
2. Expect to live in varying types of accommodation ranging from hotels and motels to sleeping in the back of the aircraft!
3. Don’t expect a huge salary.

Pathway to becoming a Bush Pilot

Devote the best part of a year to obtain a PPL (Private Pilots License) and subsequent CPL (Commercial Pilots License) and if you are going to ferry passengers you will need an ATPL (Air Traffic Pilots License). This is if you can do the course full time. Part time, it can take up to 5 years. The cost can vary from $10,000 up to $50,000 depending on how intensive you want to do the course and how cheap you can rent a plane and instructor.

You must be prepared to study and write exams in order to pass the theoretical tests.

You must be able to deal with abnormal conditions like removing ice from the control-surfaces of the plane, because it got frozen over night. In Africa, we had to change tires because the Lions chewed through them!

Before you will get paid for any type of flying, you must meet the minimum FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements.

1. You must be at least 18 years old
2. You must be able to read, write and speak English.
3. You must have at least a PPL or higher license certificate from the FAA.
4. A minimum of 250 hours flying experience.
5. Have your logbook endorsed by a certified instructor to confirm the above-mentioned ratings and experience.
6. Pass all the practical and theoretical tests in order to hold a Commercial Pilots License. Most flight schools, that train commercial pilots, have a set program for students to obtain this type of certificate.

After you have obtained your Commercial Pilots License, you can go to a flight school that specializes in training pilots to become Bush Pilots. This normally includes training to fly airplanes equipped with floats, skis or tundra wheels. These flight schools will also train you to fly in abnormal conditions. This will include learning to land on lakes, gravel-bars on riverbanks and frozen lakes in winter.

There are a number of flight schools that offer this type of training, and depending on what type of environment, type of aircraft and type of work you will be doing, the courses run from a few hours to a week. On average a Ski Plane and Glacier Landing training course will last for 5 hours at a cost of around $1800 and will include two night’s lodging. A Sea Plane Refresher Course can cost around $180 per hour. A Bush- and Mountain flying course includes 5 hours ground- and 5 hours flight training and costs around $1400 with two nights lodging. An Advanced Bush Pilot Course can take up to 5 days, and will include 5-7 hours ground training and 5-7 hours flight training. This course will cover mountain flying, river landings and high altitude lakes. This course will challenge you, and sharpen your skills as a pilot. These courses are very helpful and necessary for any aspirant Bush Pilot who is going to fly in Alaska, Canada or operate in off-airport conditions.

You will learn to land, and take off in circumstances that conventional pilots regard impossible or very dangerous. You will learn precision flying, and would be able to get your aircraft in to very confined spaces, and out again. You will be able to do it safely and confidently. You would regard this as a normal day at the office. You will become one of “them,” a bush pilot.

More info:

About The Author

Cedric Pieterse

Cedric Pieterse was born and raised in South Africa, and always had a passion for traveling. He eventually got fed-up with climbing the corporate ladder and decided to pack his bags and hit the road. After four years of criss-crossing Africa, Cedric is currently living in Sweden.

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  • J. Bortfost

    Very nice Cedric, I enjoyed the article a lot. Very informative. I have been doing my ppl and now want to get a commercial license. The whole idea of becoming a bush pilot is very attractive and you steered me in the right direction Thank you!

  • N. Chrystine Olson

    Great article. I know a few bush pilots and they all love their work. Also handy friends to have if you love to fly and haven’t gotten your own license yet. I still get shivers when I think of landing on the Ruth Glacier in Alaska a couple years back.

  • Florian Rhyn

    Good afternoon! :-)

    Thank you very much! It is wrote very clearly. In the whole internet so many bushpilots say, that they went to Canada/Alaska/Somewhere and became a bushpilot. But I never came to know, how I can became one of them.
    My father’s got a 1959 Cessna 175 Skylark. I flew with him across europe since I was eight years old. Now I’m 18 and it was ever the greatest wish for me to fly in the wilderness. I hope, after my apprenticeship I’m going to live my dreams!
    When I age to 20, then I travel to New Bern to get the PPL, like my father. Mercifully I was born in New York, so I have an US-Passport and one of Switzerland. Maybe I’m going to became first a glacier pilot here in Switzerland and then going to Alaska or Norway to be Bush-/Taxi-Pilot!
    Oops, I wrote down my whole livestory! Sorry for this! But it’s a great exercise to learn english. :-D

    Best greetings from Switzerland!


  • KiloHotel

    Thanks for the info. Being a bush pilot is my life dream!

  • africanbushpilot

    I like the article.
    I’m a bush pilot in Tanzania with Cessna Caravans.
    I have flown in Botswana as well.

    I have a blog too

  • JV

    I have been looking into this as a possible career choice. This article answered most of my questions that I had.


    I was an Alaska bush pilot for 35-years, and logged 20,000 safe flying hours. In all that time, I never once came across a “bush pilot flying course” of any nature. One does not require any license beyond a Commercial Pilot License to flly and charge freight or passengers. If flying floats, a Commercial ASES (Airplane Single Engine Land) rating is required to charge others for your flying.

    To be a bush pilot, you must either own your own airplane (no one will rent an airplane to you for that sort of flying!) or work for (a) an air taxi operator, (b) a hunting/fishing lodge, or (c) an Alaska Registered Guide.

    I speak for North America, of course, and know nothing about African bush flying. I did once accept a position with Bally Air Service in Dar es Salaam (with Tim Bally) at one time, but did not travel to Africa after having learned that I would have to buy my own uniforms. The salary was too meager for that, I thought.

    And, by the way, I was also an Alaska Registered Guide for those 35-years. My two books, “Fying the Alaska Wild” and “The Alaska Bush Pilot Chronicles” will give you a better insight into what flying the bush is really all about.

    Still, great article!

    • Jordan

      Dear Mort,

      I was pleased to see your comments on here as I was fortunate enough to receive your book “Flying the Alaska Wild” as a gift from my mother a couple of years back. I very much enjoyed your memories of bush flying. It says something about your dedication to adventure, and bush flying in particular, that you are reading forums such as this. Thank you for your contribution.

  • http://hotmail Andreas

    Is there any way how one can become a pilot even if he had a cardiac operation (valve replacement) ??

  • Rushad Patel

    I hold an FAA CPL and trying to find a job as a bush pilot. Any help will be greatly appreciated.


  • Sean Brewer

    To all potential Bush $Pilots out there, this article sums up most of the issues but there are issue of Quality of fuel and condition of planes from what ever company you get hired on with. I have been flying for quite some time and worked for companies that ducked typed there planes together. Just stay on top of your game know how to do all your own repairs of power plant and instruments and purifing contaimenated fuel. ATP will come in handy. Low and slow to places nobody knows-Happy flying to all. Sean

  • Jay Kelley

    Interesting article. Sounds as if bush flying in Africa is comparable in many ways to bush flying in Alaska.

    I flew Alaska year ’round for 13 years and another 20 years seasonally after that. I flew air taxi, worked for flyout fishing lodges, for registered guides and flew as a herring and salmon spotter for commercial fishermen for many years.

    My website, has several of my true stories about flying in Alaska, a directory of Alaska flight operations, other information and many photos. There is also a membership section that lists Alaska flying job offers as they come up. The membership section includes a directory of about 300 Alaska flight operations with website links to about 250 of them. There is also a section that details and diagrams methods and techniques for fish spotting.

  • CC Pocock

    I specialize in Advanced Bush & Mountain Flying Training in South Africa.

    Email me at for more info or go to my web site

    My “Bush & Mountain Flying” handbook is available from selected pilot supply stores worldwide.


    CC Pocock
    Bush Air, Barberton Airfield, South Africa.

  • scott

    I am close to getting my private license, my dad owns and runs a cropdusting business, i plan on getting into ag flying, but i would like to go to alaska and work for a bush pilot and maybe get a chance to do a few jobs during summers, i belive training with a bush pilot will make me a better pilot. Any comments or ideas will help.

  • Sergio

    Hi guys, I’am a spanish 32 ‘boy’, I’m still feeling young ;) To be a pilot was my dream since I have memories. As my parents have never been rich, I could not make my dream come true. Now I have a good job, my own apartment and a good car but, you know, I don’t have what I really wanted. I just writting here to know if there is any chance to learn fly, in Alaska or Canada, with some opportunities to continue working there. I really don’t mind if I don’t earn a good salary, you know, money does not make you happy.

    Any flying school to become a bush pilot??? website? prices, job opportunities? Maybe I need to break with ‘everything’!
    Cheers for everybody who understand me!

  • http://HowtobecomeaBushPilot Kandi Tripp

    I am a student enrolled in a course called Career Explorations. I am currently researching a career as a Bush Pilot. In this course we are supposed to gather lots of information about our chosen career. I have enjoyed all the research and informational postings that I’ve come acrossed, however I haven’t been able to locate any wage information. Could you possibly help me out with this information? I would be looking for… starting wages and the top side of of the wage scale. Also, what do bush pilots charge for being a taxi from island to island?

  • Andrew

    Gday! Nice article mate, I printed it off and showed to the family, youve hit the nail on the head and its nice to have something that describes the bush pilot life that ive been living for the last 2 years in the remote northern territory of Australia. Very entertaining and very accurate!

  • flight training school

    For becoming a bush pilot intensive training is required. The person who wants to be bush pilot must be attentive and confident. There are many flight training schools that offer training programs related to aviation. The students can acknowledge the methods of flying different air-crafts by the help of skilled trainers. Some of the courses that they offer are ski-plane and glacier landing course, mountain flying course.>

  • Natasha

    We feature a series on our website that follows a local pilot on his quest to become an African bush pilot, called Botswana Bound. Check it out at:
    The footage is just amazing, all shot from a first-hand perspective.

  • Matt Taylor

    I have recently completed a commercial pilots license with an instrument rateing. I would like to know if you have any job opportunities. I have done most of my training at 43 air school and i have just under 300 hours.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Matthew Taylor

  • Joe


    I enjoyed your article. But could you please tell me more accurately how a person can accrue flight hours and the aproximate cost? You gave a rough approximation of 10 to 50k. Would you have any phone numbers of people to call, or websites even? More specifically, if a person has 400 hours and would like to accrue roughly one thousand more, what would you suggest?


    • Steve

      Get your commercial and CFI and instruct students, and they pay you.

  • Nicole Durbin

    I used to aspire to be a bush pilot in Africa. I even did your 1 through 6 above but it’s more difficult to make the plunge with a husband and kids. One of these days…

  • Marck Cargo

    Corporate sector like this only as universal view. But like your article to read , very informative it is for me.
    aviation ground support equipment

  • FlightLessons

    If you want flight lessons try our Flight School now

  • Mark Bascug

    This certainly is a more adventurous way to go about it hehe.
    I dreamt of being a pilot my whole life and finally decided to join the Canadian Air Force. Flying lessons are too expensive these days.
    What is the typical salary for a “bush” pilot?

    - Mark Bascug –

  • Stephen Smith1993

    this is definitly a career Im am interested in! sounds like an adventure and a challenge :)

    • LauraS

      Hi Stephen,

      I work for RDF Television and we are currently in the early stages of making a documentary regarding pilots going to Botswana to try and get a job. Is this something you are thinking about. If so do you have a contact number/email address I can get you?

      Best wishes,


      • Sam Smith

        Hi Laura,
        This i am currently saving the money to be able to go and train as a bush pilot, i currently hold a PPL which i obtained through the RAF on a university airsquadron and am approching 150 hours of flight time!  I am looking to start the process very soon, Botswana may be an option for me. If you are interested here are my contact details, it would be good to have a chat,
        Best Regards

        079855 31640

        • Sam Smith

          Apologies for the Typo ‘This’ :s

      • del26

        I have the same goal too finding a pilot position in Botswana. I contacted several company a year ago but unfortunately they were not hiring. I’m currently working on my flight instructor certificate so that i can keep flying and share my passion to the public. I have my Commercial multiengine land with instrument  rating. 276 logged. 50hrs multi time.


  • A pilot

    this is absolutely hilarious.  I just came back from a year flying in East Africa and it certainly isn’t as simple as “follow these steps, go to school, and you get a job”.

    • Don Robertson

      can you be a little more specific about the job part. Just about to start lessons and would like your take on the subject.  Thanks.  D.R.

    • Csanad

      haha, true

  • Another pilot…

    I live in Waterloo, Ontario. I am finishing up my CPL and just graduated from University with a BSc. in Geology. Do you know a good place for me to start looking for Bush Flying Jobs?

  • Csanad

    Yeah, bush flying in Africa is quite challenging and fun. If you have what it takes to pack your stuff and show up. It is a good carreer start and an adventure for life…
    Google: Low Time Pilots Guide to African Bush Flying

    • Maegen Fischer

      Hi i am currently looking for a flying job overseas  for my boyfriend, he really wants to go to Canada . I think anywhere though where he can get a job . Do u have any recomendations where i can start looking ? . Bush flying he could really enjoy we are currently in South Africa

      • Csanad

        Botswana and Namibia should be a good start

  • Tarik Merryface

    This article gets my blood flowing. I’m studying ATPL and I’m planning on finding some work Bush flying if I can once CPL out of the way. I just wish there was a school that did Bush Flying training courses for JAA pilots without the need to do complex paperwork and extra exams and check rides.

  • Niki Dunham-Mihm

    Dear Cedric! Thank you so much for this post, I really learned a lot and it will be very helpful. My son is in the Army on his last leg of deployment in Afghanistan. He had been looking into becoming a bush pilot prior to this deployment, and with this post I think it will be the push he needs to say “yes” to his inner desire. Your post described him as though he had been the author, as he is the last of 6 children and always into extreme challenges and pursuits! Thanks again… I sent the link to him to read this! Peace to you… be safe! Tyler’s Mom!

  • Paige Bunn

    hello my name is paige bunn I’m from ireland and I’m n the process of getting my people could I come over then and fly over there to add my hours to obtain my cpl could you write back to me as soon as possible as I need to know of a career.

  • Alex Moncada

    great article cedric, do you know if there are any companies that actually endorse your training and then hire you or are the golden days gone for ever?

  • Stefan Pienaar

    To become a bush pilot you need some luck. It is one thing to get a CPL but with only 250hrs behind you name work is scarce. My son got is his CPL @ 20 years. After numerous phone calls ( e-mails do not work) he did get an interview in Swakopmund in Namibia. He was lucky to get a pilot job on a C210 at “Pleasure Flights” flying tourist on site seeing trips around Namibia but the pay were peanuts. Those people know the young chappies are eager to get some hours and there attidude are “take it or leave it”. After 800 hrs he decided it is time to get home to South Africa and were lucky in finding a pilot job at “Fed Air” the company pay for his convertion on the “Caravan” and his job was transporting tourist between Johannersburg Internation (New OR Tambo Airport) and priviate nature lodges in Southern Africa. His motto were to met the right people in the industy and keep in contact. He were then also very lucky when one of the biggest Charting companies “NAC” make him an offer to fly in Sudan on the PAC 750. They also pay for the convertion, but off-course he have to sign a contract with the company and he work for 4 years in Sudan. The same company make him an offer to ugrade his raiting to the B1900d at the cost of the company but then he must work in Afghanistan. He is now 27 years flying B1900 in Afghanistan, but it is still a long way to go, however the pay is not so bad anymore.
    As you can see one needs some luck and know the right people in the industry. You must built up your repetation as a good pilot who can take responsibility and walk the extra mile without any additional pay and you must also socailize with people in the industry – that is were you built-up your contacts.
    There is a video on your tube of my sons work as a bush pilot in Sudan.


    Extellent article, it really does help keep the dream alive that bush pilots really do exist, and really have a viable place in the aviation workforce. An invaluable tool to the remote wilderness, we think this need will never realistically go away!

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