First Officer Bill is stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, and flies both passenger planes and cargo freighters.
How did you become a pilot for Alaska Air?
I wanted to be a pilot for Alaska Airlines ever since I was a kid growing up on Kodiak Island, Alaska, watching all the float planes. Plus, my grandfather was in the Air Force, and my dad owns commercial fishing boats. Whenever our boats needed a part or a technician flown in, Alaska would be our first call. We viewed Alaska Airlines as part of our family because of how much we relied on them.
Where do you fly?
We fly it all: Hawaii, Mexico, the East Coast. But as an Anchorage-based pilot, we have exclusive qualifications for all Alaska airports. Many are tough to get into, with mountains and short runways.
How important is cargo in Alaska?
It’s vital. You hear the term “lifeline” used a lot, and it’s true, especially in the more remote locations. Items like groceries are obvious, but also things you may not think about, like medical supplies or blood donations. What’s in the belly below us is the only way it’s going to get to its destination. There are no trains or trucks or boats in a lot of areas. It’s up to us.
How about for the commercial fishing industry?
The commercial fishing industry is big-time reliant on air cargo, both inbound and outbound. Crucial equipment can break down on boats in bad weather in the middle of a season, and the primary way to get replacement parts to key ports like Dutch Harbor or Cordova is through us. Outbound, the livelihoods of processors and canneries are dependent upon Alaska Airlines to get product to market on time. Fresh seafood is what people associate with the “face” of Alaska. So our responsibility is really to the entire state.
What kind of impact have the new freighters had in Alaska?
Well, pilots love flying them. And they’ve had a positive impact on outlying communities, which now get more frequent, scheduled service. Residents can ship things, such as snow machines, at the last minute. And for me personally, the freighters keep me closer to the state, closer to home.
With Alaska’s reputation for inclement weather, how do you maintain reliable service?
We’re never going to push something if the weather is bad or a plane has mechanical issues, but we all recognize that we are the only connection to many communities. So we are going to put every resource and option we have — within the constraints of safety —to make sure we get in. It may mean taking on extra fuel to outlast the weather. Or creatively rerouting by swapping the order of destinations to take advantage of a weather window while in flight. Everyone works together. We’re a team.
What does flying for Alaska Airlines mean to you personally?
I always think about just how much the people of Alaska rely on us for their business and their family. We’re often the only option in some places, and that’s not something we ever lose sight of.
When he’s not flying, First Officer Jacobson is busy documenting his travels on Instagram. Check out his amazing photos.