Pete Chaisson got his first taste of flying as a young boy. His family had a camp on Little Sebago Lake in Raymond, where Chaisson delivered newspapers by boat and a customer offered him a ride in a float plane. But while Chaisson said he loved the experience, he didn’t return to flying for decades, instead making a living playing and writing music and then driving a truck. Seeking a new career after a bad car accident, he decided to try flying. Chaisson now operates Portland Flight Services, offering aviation instruction and providing flights for photographers (including photographers with the Portland Press Herald) and tourists.
Q. What made you decide to get into aviation after the accident in 2001?
A. I’m into athletics and an adrenaline junkie. I always wanted to fly, but it seemed like an expense I couldn’t afford – I wasn’t aware of student loans (for instruction). After high school, I went to California to pursue a career in music, playing bass and writing music. (Then) I got into trucking. After about a million miles, I got sick of that and came back to Maine and got back into music for a few years. In 2001, I got in a bad car accident and was able to get vocational rehab. They asked what I was interested in. So I said flying.
Q. Was that easy to do in Maine?
A. I came down to Maine Aviation and got a private pilot’s license. They helped me figure out the financing and then I met another student who was going to work in Florida. I got enrolled in another school down there and earned three instructor ratings. After flight school, I got a job in Destin, Florida, and spent seven years there teaching Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine pilots as a contractor. We lost the contract with the military and I returned to Maine in 2010. I got hired at Maine Aviation (as a flight instructor) and worked there until they closed their flight school (in January).
Q. Then you opened your own business?
A. I had more than a dozen students who hadn’t finished their training, so I had the clientele to get started. It was an opportunity for me to start my own business. I figured if I wasn’t going to do it, someone else would. I’m leasing the planes – one of my students helped me get started. He’s helping me with the financing by buying the planes and then I’m leasing them back from him. I have two training planes and hope to buy a third.
Q. What’s the cost?
A. I do an intro flight for $99, just to take them up and see if they’re comfortable and then after that, the aircraft is $135 an hour, plus $50 for instructions. The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours of flying (for a license) and 10 of them are solo hours. The ground portion of the instruction is one-on-one, as you go. For about $2,500 you can get to the point where you’re soloing.
Q. Do you fly charters?
A. I can’t do charter flights. I need another license from the FAA for that. I do flight instruction, photo flights and aircraft rental. And scenic flights, which I’m going to advertise at local hotels. I’m also a float plane instructor. I have an interest in maybe expanding to charter eventually because there’s some midprice range work that’s available.
Q. What are photo flights?
A: Photo flights are flying over a specific target, like a live sports event, generally flying at 1,000 feet and getting the angle they want. I work for the water district (photographing its facilities) and I also take up real estate photographers (to shoot) houses for sale and tracts of land. I did that a lot in Florida, so they can see the land before it’s developed and the progress as it’s going up.
Q. Why wouldn’t someone just use Google Earth images?
A. You can’t get the definition you can get from a good camera up in a plane. And, you can get it at different times of the day and in different seasons. With Google Earth, you get the photo they have at the time they took it. I could tell how old some of them are by looking at my parents’ house and seeing vehicles in the driveway that they don’t own any more. In a plane, you can get shots before the leaves are on the trees and seasonal shots you can’t get from Google Earth. I usually charge $200 an hour for photo flights and I’ve done a few scenic flights for about the same rate.
Q. Do you ever think about working for an airline?
A. A lot of my friends work for the airlines, but it’s a tough business. It takes time to move up the chain and you don’t see people staying with the same airline a long period of time. But there are plenty of jobs for new pilots because a majority of the senior captains are former military pilots, some of them from the Vietnam era, and they’re reaching retirement age.
Q. What do you like about flying in Maine?
A. Growing up here, I never really saw what it was like from the air. A lot of people don’t understand the true beauty of the state until you see it from the air. It has a unique coastline that’s not comparable to anywhere in the country and when you see it with your own eyes, it’s a different perspective.