Becoming a pilot is a professional goal many young boys and girls dream of. Flying is the ultimate feeling of freedom, soaring over the clouds and gazing down on the tiny world below… John Ferguson and Dan Cummins are living the dream as pilots and here’s what they have to say about it.
Incidentally, both interviews were improvised. When I was in Vancouver I was looking out over the harbour, brainstorming about which professions would fit my series of articles about dream jobs. My eye fell on the Harbour Air Seaplanes in front of me and then it hit me: “If there is one job on the planet that gets people excited, it’s pilot of a plane!” So I ran down to the terminal and asked if I could interview one of the pilots. That’s where John Ferguson came in. Dan Cummins was the pilot in charge of the seaplane I was in later on, for a tour of Vancouver Harbour.
“I have been a pilot for nearly 19 years, but I’ve been working for about 10 years,” John says. “My dad was a pilot and it kind of ran in the family. I started out on float planes and I stuck with them, because they always looked like the most fun! They’re basically like a sports car among planes.”
However in a car you’re usually safer when it comes to bad weather, than in a small plane. And Canada has a reputation for rough weather in certain places… “When you fly up north of Vancouver the weather is worse, so in general that’s more dangerous,” he agrees. “There you get used to flying in bad weather, it’s a little more foggy and windy. But down here Harbour Air’s motto is safety. You check the weather reports and try to be as safe as you can. It’s not very scary, flying here,” he laughs. “The furthest we go is up to Comox on Vancouver Island, but these planes are more of a short range. A quick hop back and forth.”
John has also taken becoming an airline pilot into consideration, but quickly changed his mind. “I thought about going to airlines,” he admits. “But it’s pretty boring, they practically fly themselves. They automatically take off and land. You just sit in a chair for hours on end. Here you get to take off and land all day, which is the most fun!”
Speaking of fun… it’s often the surprising, yet funny moments in our lives that both scare and amaze us at the same time, as John can confirm. “I was up north once, flying across the Strait, about 50 feet above sea level, when a humpback whale breached the surface right next to us! That actually was quite a scary moment!”
I couldn’t resist but ask if he had flown any celebrities around, as Vancouver is often used as a filming location for many movies and television series. It turned out he had. “One summer I flew Canadian singer Michael Bublé around,” he recalls. “Also American actresses Jessica Biel and Sigourney Weaver were among our guests not too long ago.”
Dan Cummins, the pilot of the Harbour Air Seaplane I was on an hour later, remembered having a few famous people on board, too. “We had actress Jennifer Connolly, her husband actor Paul Bettany and their kids on the plane recently,” he informs me. “Delightful people. Another actor, Harrison Ford, actually flies his own plane around here. He is a pilot as well.”
Although becoming a pilot is not something I’m dreaming of or aspiring to, but for the duration of this tour, I was happy to be co-pilot! From the seat next to Dan, I was in the position to ask him a few more questions. He gave my a set of headphones, that way I could listen to him talk to air traffic control, as well as have a conver-sation with him. Without the headphones, I wouldn’t have been able to understand anything, because the engine is really loud.
During our 40 minute flight I asked him about the best part of being a pilot. “Going to new places is for sure the best part of my job,” he tells me. “I especially enjoy flying around during the sunset on a nice and sunny evening.” During our flight at 4.30 PM the weather was fantastic. The sun was beginning to set and it was a (in my opinion) perfect temperature of approximately 13 degrees Celsius.
Halfway during the flight I asked him if it was possible to do either a 360 or a barrel roll with this particular plane. “Not with the floats on,” he grinned. Luckily he didn’t do any attempts to try it anyway, because that probably would’ve turned the stomachs of the passengers in the back of the plane.
We landed safely about half an hour later and I was very grateful to have been in the position to fly on the co-pilot seat and interview both pilots, who clearly enjoy their job! If you’re in Vancouver and interested in going on one the many scenic tours, go to http://www.harbourair.com/