Admittedly, Kenmore Air pilots have pretty amazing jobs. Some might say they have the best job in the world. They fly daily to locations that are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for most folks.
As glorious as these pilots jobs are now, that was not always the case. The Kenmore Air’s flight crew earned their stripes the hard way: on the line.
To get the inside perspective, I joined the line crew for a morning.
A Day on the Line
The sun hadn’t risen when Jay Todhunter, the line crew supervisor, arrived at Kenmore Air Harbor. It wouldn’t for be another hour. Spotlights from the main building cast a yellow glow across the dock and throughout the yard.
Kenmore Air only closes but two days a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas). On the other 363 mornings, the planes must be prepped before dawn for their first departure. Morning’s at Kenmore Air are busy indeed.
The process was a steady and careful one. It began with moving the day’s first wave of de Havilland Beavers from their puzzle-like storage within the yard back into the water. For maximum efficiency, this two-person job required both a forklift driver and hydraulic ramp operator.
The morning I joined the line crew, Jay was being assisted by Mason, a college senior and aspiring pilot. While Jay navigated each Beavers’ 48-foot wingspan past seaplanes, cars and equipment onto a hydraulic ramp, Mason was constantly on the move.
When he wasn’t lowering a Beaver into the water, Mason was guiding them down the dock and tying them up securely.
Once the morning departures were loaded and floating at their tethered spot, the entire line needed to be cleaned and fueled. The windows were washed both inside and out. The seatback pockets were checked for all essentials (magazines, air sickness bags and earplugs). Floats were pumped free of any water taken on over the night. Fuel levels were checked and recorded. Gas tanks were filled.
And by the time the fellas were ready to take a swig of coffee and catch their breath, the sun had risen above the horizon. The pilots had begun arriving and starting their engines. The passengers were checking-in. Couples were posing for selfies in front of de Havilland Otters.
In an hour, the process of moving, loading, cleaning and fueling would begin again as the two prepared for the second wave of departures. But for a second, Jay and Mason could stop, soak in the morning sun and the cool breeze coming off the water.
“It’s not the best during the winter, but you can’t beat being out on the water everyday,” Jay explained.
For the line crew, the rapid morning of departure prep was the steadiest and most predictable part of the day. It always is. “The rest of the day is spent looking after the planes as they come back. You never quite know what you’re going to find. You just have to be prepared to take care of anything,” Jay said.
Needless to say, being on the line is a move, move, move kind of job.
Who is Jay?
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Jay always dreamed of being a pilot. He attended Central Washington University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Flight Technology.
It was the first step towards earning his pilot stripes. “Now days, pretty much anyone who wants to be a pilot needs a four-year education,” explained Jay.
While his B.S. was certainly a step towards his dream, Jay is thankful to the college for a bit more than his degree. While studying aviation, he also met wife, Melissa.
“She’s incredibly supportive of my dreams,” Jay said. While he loves what he does, Jay couldn’t help but smile as he told me that he always looks forward to quality time with her.
Working the line this past summer, Jay went through Kenmore Air’s seaplane rating training. For Jay, getting his foot in the door was key. But, he’s also enjoying being on the line. “I can’t imagine a job that keeps me indoors all day. I mean, you can’t beat this,” Jay said, motioning to the seaplanes floating by the docks.
Looking out at the docks, I have to agree with him. You can’t beat a day with Kenmore Air.