From a young age, David Senko knew he wanted to be a pilot. No one in his family worked in aviation, but he could spend hours watching planes buzz around Campbell Lake near his childhood home in Anchorage. David’s parents indulged his fascination by giving him his first flying lesson for his 12th birthday. He’s hardly been out of the air since!
As Senior Captain/Line Check Airman for Corvus Airlines (part of the Ravn Alaska regional airline), David pilots a Dash 8. It’s the largest aircraft operated by Ravn, with a capacity of 37 passengers. After nearly 10,000 hours piloting in the captain’s seat of the Dash 8 (15,000 total), David knows all its ins and outs. “It’s an extremely capable aircraft, designed for the type of flying we do in Alaska,” he explains. “It handles cross winds, tailwinds, icy conditions, and doesn’t take much runway at all to land or take off.”
With wrap-around windows in the cockpit, the view from the Dash 8 can’t be beat either. “I love the scenery and I love Alaska,” says David.
There is no typical day in the life of a regional airline pilot in Alaska. Flights are weather dependent, and the schedule varies: David might have two flights in a day - or six. All of his flights originate in Anchorage, but he might head to Kenai, Homer, Valdez, Fairbanks, Bethel, Unalakleet or the many other destinations served by Ravn Alaska. This variety keeps it interesting, and the daily return to Anchorage means he gets to see his family every night.
David wasn’t always so lucky. The day he graduated from pilot school in Prescott, Arizona he began the long drive back to Alaska. He couldn’t wait to get back home and put his certifications to good use. But there was a glut of new pilots and everyone was looking to fly. He took a job at a warehouse for a few years. Then he got hired to the airline working fleet service. “I’ll never forget my first night on the job, a guy came up and said, ‘You want to be a pilot?’ I said ‘Yes,’ and he replied, ‘You’re number 26.’ ” There were 26 of us working on the ramp who were waiting out turns to fly for a living.”
David did earn his spot, even buying an airplane to keep up his flying hours while he waited. And when he eventually got his chance, the Senior Captain on his first flight got tired of hearing him say, “I can’t believe I’m being paid to do this!”
David hasn’t lost that sense of excitement or wonder. Being able to see Alaska from the air is inspiring. “It beats a real job!” he laughs.
There are two Alaska locations high on his favorites list. The first is Valdez. “On a nice day you see Prince William Sound, Columbia Glacier, College Fjord. It’s so majestic and breathtaking. I never get tired of it.” Another favorite is Unalakleet, hometown of his wife Tiffanie. “There are trees, rivers, and the ocean. I like to walk on the beach to break up the day, and to see family and friends.” For David, the Unalakleet flight is always full of family and lots of hugs.
David describes one particularly memorable flight, when he proposed to Tiffanie over the intercom. (Tiffanie also works for Ravn as a flight attendant.) Both David and passengers were thrilled when she said, “Yes!”
Afterward, Tiffanie served sparkling cider and champagne to all the passengers (which David had prearranged with management). Everyone clapped and cheered at the end of the flight, when he emerged from the cockpit and got down on one knee to reveal the ring.
Today Tiffanie and David are happily raising their daughter, and enjoy the camaraderie and flexibility that work at Ravn offers. It’s quite possible the love of aviation will extend to the next generation. David’s already been passing on his knowledge to the younger set through his responsibilities as Line Check Airman. In this role he mentors newer pilots as they complete 20 hours of Initial Operating Experience (IOE). He’s thoughtful about how he approaches that task. “It’s important how you treat them and the tone you set in the cockpit. Most pilots are picky and hard on themselves, so you don’t have to be hard on them. They want to do good.”
After decades on the job, David has advice for visitors to Alaska. #1: Enjoy the experience of walking right to your plane, with ease and convenience of boarding. “It saves a lot of time and it’s like the old days of flying.” #2: Ask which side of the plane to sit on for the best views. (For Valdez and Fairbanks, it’s the left!). #3: Bring a camera. Several passengers have told him that flights like the one to Valdez were the highlight of their Alaska experience, even though they were on board simply to get to a destination.
No matter where you are flying in Alaska, know that your regional airline pilot loves the view as much as you do. As David says, “It’s the best office in the world.”