FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Never climb into an airplane cockpit in winter without your best military-grade arctic boots, rated to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Green, cocky pilots fresh from the lower 48 tend to forget that rule just once. Knowing when not to climb aboard the plane at all is harder, and comes only with deeper experience.
“If my gut tells me this is not good, we don’t go,” said Matt Anderson, 55, who has spent more than 25 years flying small planes across Alaska’s wild, empty and hazardous landscapes.
Generations of pilots like Mr. Anderson once came north for adventure, and to hone their skills in small planes, flying the Alaskan bush in the nation’s most aviation-dependent state. Their derring-do, in turn, helped create the Alaskan mystique.
But now a shortage of pilots — global in scope, fueled by the growth of aviation in Asia and a wave of baby boomer retirements — is rippling across Alaska with gale force. A state with six times as many pilots per capita as the rest of the nation, and the need for every one of them to connect its many far-flung dots on the map, is rewriting the equations of supply and demand.
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