I have been with this 5-star resort hotel for 2 yrs now, as the sole pilot of the company’s ‘executive’ configured Islander. My main task is flying the hotel’s guests to/from nearby International gateway airports, to the short (1,400’) airstrip on the small island where the hotel is located.
I never imagined my wife and I would end up working in the Caribbean. As is often the case, an unplanned set of coincidences led to this position. I trained and began my career flying Islanders and Navajo’s in western Canada, with all the experience of snow, icing, and frozen fingers that go with winter operations. It was by chance that I heard of a ‘friend of a friend’ that started the same way, and ended up in the Caribbean. My wife and I decided to holiday in the region, and while here, I saw the opportunity for work, especially on light twins; Islanders and Twin Otters, very popular small aircraft in the area. When we returned home, I searched BN2 operators and contacted them. I lucked out, and ended up with 3 job offers. Something I would not have expected in Canada! My wife and I decided to try life in the sun and sand, and as she’s a teacher, she could find work fairly easily.
The first couple of months were full of surprises and culture shock. Of course the weather was and remains excellent. It’s the slow ‘Caribbean time’ pace of things, and overwhelming bureaucracy that took time getting used to. Something simple that takes hours in Canada may take days here, and trying to force the system to work faster only results in resentment and longer delays. The simplest way is to ‘go with the flow’. Now we’re used to it, it will be hard to go back.
The last two years have been a very enriching experience. Sounds cliché, but it’s opened our minds to a different way of life. The people in the region are warm, kind, and friendly, just like the weather (except for hurricane season, which is another story).
As the sole pilot for the hotel, I fly all trips. We operate on UK regulations, so duty days/hours are more restrictive than in Canada. When a day off is required, we charter the local scheduled carrier’s Islanders to do the trips. It is nice being the only pilot – if the planes’ a mess I know who to blame. Having responsibility for nearly all aspects of the aircraft’s operations is a good lesson in planning that will undoubtedly help my career. I only max out duty/flight hours during our busiest time, Dec/Jan. The other months are slower, sometimes with as little as 30-35hrs of flying. I am salaried, so less flying means more time at the beach! It is seasonal work, and I end up with usually 2-3 months off per year. It’s a relaxing lifestyle, I enjoy the work, and the islands are fascinating - each one has a different character.
Under UK regs, there really isn’t VFR at night, so night flights (along with IMC days) are single-pilot IFR. The Islander is not a complex aircraft, so it’s not a big chore, and it’s made me very comfortable in IMC.
The company a/c is in excellent condition, with an all-leather interior, club seating, even sheepskin pilot seats. The airplane is relatively slow (130kts cruise), but is ideal for the 2-4 pax (average), short sector, and short airstrip work we do. The a/c is very well equipped, with HSI, RMI, 3(!?) altimeters, colour wx radar, and tip tanks, but no autopilot. The only toy I would like to see added is GPS.
To get this job, I had to convert my Cdn Licence to the local ‘OECS’ (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) Licence. That involved a couple hours of training, an IFR ride, and base check (done under arrangement with a local scheduled carrier that we contract for maintenance and sub-charters). I had to write a BN2 type exam (sounded easy, but had some very obscure questions in true British fashion), and would have involved another 6 exams, except I had just written them in the UK towards my UK ATPL.
The regional ATC system is very competent, although many islands lack radar facilities, making actual IFR conditions full of delays due to increased separation. The local pilots are a very professional group, and comprise of local Caribbean nationals, plus contingents of British, Australian, French, and lots of Canadians. Due to the lack of flight schools in the region, many local pilots have trained in Canada, and take very kindly to letting us Canucks fly in their beautiful islands. A decade or so ago, the Canadian government supported a large infrastructure improvement program for aviation in the region, building and upgrading dozens of airports. Lots of Canadians have either semi or permanently settled in the area.
I do want to fly larger/faster aircraft, and last summer completed my UK ATPL. I plan to find work in Europe (I am Canadian but hold both a CDN and UK/EU Passport) once the airline industry improves. For now this is a pretty reasonable tradeoff. I have no doubt that this experience will benefit my career, and has been great fun as well. Living 100 metres from a beautiful beach is nothing to complain about!
Good luck in your endeavors!
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