Travelling with Chuck & Trisha from Southeast Alaska
After 25 years (and counting!), Chuck Schroth has seen all there is to see in Southeast Alaska – and there’s a lot. It’s mostly a coastal region, otherwise known as the Alexander Archipelago, offering lakes, miles of forests, swamps, and highlands, including over 1,000 islands with an abundance of biodiversity.
“Around this part of Alaska, the best way to get around is by airplane instead of a car,” Chuck explains, “I got into flying that way, which eventually turned into commercial flying. I’ve been doing that ever since.”
For 14 years, Chuck and his wife, Trisha, owned Fjord Flying, where Chuck oversaw a small team of pilots, operating as an air taxi service. In 2014, he sold it all to ‘get back to basics.’
Today, Chuck runs a single-pilot operation, but he continues to do the type of work that comes with the territory. Chuck has a couple of Cessna’s, an American Champion Scout, and two helicopters to help him get jobs done.
One such job is in telemetry, which requires Chuck to fly into hard to reach places. It’s a job perfect for his American Champion Scout. “Mountain goats hang out at the tops of mountains. Typically they are at higher elevations than my helicopters can perform safely,” Chuck says.
In telemetry, an IT system picks up automatic signals from sensors attached to sources in remote or inaccessible places. When applied to wildlife, a collar with a transmitter is attached to an animal, and it sends out a radio signal. Antennae are fixed to the aircraft to pick up the signal, which allows scientists to find the animals.
It’s an effective way to track and understand particular wildlife habitats and sometimes, it’s the only way.
Summertime Spent in a Cessna
In the summertime, Chuck uses his floatplane, a Cessna 185, for fish spotting. It’s a job that takes him all over the region and requires long hours and flight times.
“Thank goodness for Spidertracks,” Trisha says, “At any given time I can be like, ‘look he’s landed over here’ or ‘he’s sitting at a boat over there.’”
In his Cessna 206, Chuck runs a Part 135 operation, hauling people and products across the region. During the summer, he flies people from the capital, Juneau, to fish canneries.
Around 4 July 2009, when Chuck still ran a multi-pilot operation, the fish cannery was getting a high number of orders for fresh salmon. To fill them, Chuck had to haul hundreds of people to the cannery.
“From there, we would have to pull the seats out of the aircraft and load the airplane full of fish. They were 50lb boxes, so we were flying 1000lbs of fish back into town on each flight!” Chuck explains.
On one particular day, Chuck and his team moved 20,000lbs of fish and carried 70 passengers. Even though it was a long day, Chuck and Trisha remember it as an exciting one.
When Reliability is Crucial
Whether it’s flying workers, tourists, or scientists, Chuck often ends up in remote areas. When no two days are the same, Trisha appreciates how easy it is to keep tabs on him.
“I mostly use [Spidertracks] from my phone when he’s out flying. At any moment, I know exactly where he is, where he’s been flying, and when he shuts down,” Trisha says.
Days are often long for Chuck, and they include several jobs. To make sure he’s clocking in the correct number of hours, he uses Spidertracks to review his flight time.
Although safety is embedded in the aviation culture there, it hasn’t always been that way.
“The Alaska aviation community didn’t have the best track record in the past,” says Chuck.
In fact, Alaska experiences the highest rate of accidents in the United States due to its rough terrain and poor weather and radar coverage. Years ago, the government implemented the Capstone Program to improve commercial pilots’ safety and community access in rural Alaska. Chuck says that this program isn’t available because it’s a ground-based ADS-B system; there’s still an issue with coverage.
“[The Capstone] helps you see other aircraft using the software, but it’s not good enough for me to flight follow,” Trisha says.
Chuck would sometimes have access to satellite phones in the past, but other times he wouldn’t. With no other reliable flight tracking tool, he had to make sure that Trisha could always find him.
“Knowing that my wife is keeping track of me, and I don’t have to worry about it or think about it gives me peace of mind. That’s what Spidertracks means to me,” Chuck says.
Over the years, the Capstone program has helped decrease aviation accidents in Alaska by 47%. However, for the jobs that take Chuck to some of the region’s most remote locations and across varying terrains, at least his wife - his flight tracker - can always find him.