Brianna Ricketts (22 years) is a first officer with over 3,000 hours of flight time on DHC-6 Twin Otter at Air Borealis. As the company name suggests, this is not a routine pilot job, but an incredible experience!
Air Borealis, a domestic service provider for PAL Airlines, is a passenger airline based in Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, bringing the north together with scheduled flights, air cargo and charter operations. The company also provides 24/7 medical and evacuation services to all communities on the coast.
Air Borealis is the lifeline for the Labrador coast. “We do schedule passengers flights, a bunch of special charter flights for animals, the northern light, etc. We offer freighter services to the east coast, for delivery of fruits, vegetables, postal packages, diapers, just name it – all the necessities for living.” says Brianna, “We also do an outpost charters which is when we take the indigenous people into the country land for fishing/hunting trips. This is one of my favorite schedules, because we really get to fly the Twin Otter to it’s limits. For these flights, we have big tundra tires, STOL (Short Take Off & Landing) kit and we land on eskers and bogs. Definitely a huge adrenaline rush!”
In the summer, one of the aircraft is put on floats. Fishermen are then brought into fishing camps. “Flying the Twin Otter on floats is just incredible!”, Brianna says enthusiastically. “I do around 1,000 hours flying per year, of which 300 hours on floats.”
There is no doubt about it, piloting in this environment is really tough. Labrador is one of the most challenging places to fly in the world. There are days when the wind chill is -50 °C / -60 °F, in low visibility and the weather can be very unpredictable. “We fly the plane to remote communities, often in extreme weather conditions. Upon arrival, we offload ten thousand pounds of freight. Even though this job is tough, I do this work with pride and always with a smile on my face. I am honored to represent women as a pilot on the Labrador Coast.”
Although most of the destinations have a RNAV approach, occasionally the weather is so bad that they go a week without flying. Most destinations are in uncontrolled airspace and are nothing more than gravel strips of 2000-3000 feet in length.
“Nain CYDP is definitely our most challenging place to go. It has the ocean on each end of the 1986 feet short runway and a permanent 30 knots crosswind. It definitely keeps you on your toes!” explains Brianna, “We usually fly about 8 to 10 hours a day. Most flights are short legs. For example, our main passenger service is around 4 hours of flying to 7 different airports, and then another 4 hours to the same 7 airports on the way back. The DHC-6 Twin Otter does not have an autopilot. This is all hands and feet, the way pilots want it, but also extremely challenging!”
Living the outdoors
“I’m originally from Gander, but I ended up living in Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador. I absolutely love fishing, skidoo and hiking. I enjoy the amazing outdoor life, hartwarming people and a great flying career. I’ve been here for 3 years now and I ended up purchasing a house up here.”
Living in the north you definitely fall in love with the outdoors. Brianna and her dad are big into salmon fishing. They share their own Cessna 172 on floats and do lots of crazy adventures together. Iceberg hunting is one of their favorite past times. This past winter Brianna purchased a skidoo, something that looks like a snow scooter. “I already have many epic adventures and lots of great times on my new toy.”
Canada’s youngest solo
Despite her young age, Brianna has come a long way. She started at the 537 Air Cadet Squadron in Gander when she was only 13. Barely a year later, at 14, she became Canada’s “Youngest Female to Fly Solo”. She went on to become glider pilot, private pilot and achieved a float rating at 17, Commercial Pilot at 18, and Flight Instructor at 19. Shortly after, she moved from Gander to Goose Bay and started her amazing journey with Air Borealis.
This summer her upgrade to Captain is on the horizon. “I’m very much looking forward to starting my training. Once I achieve this goal I’ll be staying on Goose Bay until another door opens and my next adventure begins… Yes, I live my life to the fullest, I enjoy every moment and always smile. Just remember, you only live once!”
Share this article with your friends and colleagues: