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Kate Brigham: San Juan Airlines pilot

CDN’s weekly community profile

Kate Brigham stands beneath the wing of a San Juan Airlines Cessna on Thursday, June 6 at the Bellingham International Airport. Brigham took her first flight as a teenager and has achieved her dream flying all over the world. Now, for San Juan Airlines, she flies short hops to deliver mail, cargo and people to the San Juan Islands or swoops through the North Cascades. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

Kate Brigham (She/her)

Age: 49

City: Bellingham

Lived here for: 15 years

Originally from: San Diego

Notable: Pilot for San Juan Airlines, former commercial airline pilot, wife, mother, parent volunteer, congregant and volunteer at St Paul's Episcopal Church, mountain biker, hiker, sailor

Why did you want to become a pilot?

I think of pilots as kind of a special breed of their own. They’re very passionate about flying, borderline a little bit crazy. When I was a teenager, I found this little coupon in the newspaper for an introductory flight for $20. I drove myself down to the little airport. We went up for a 30-minute flight over San Diego, and at that point, I was just completely sold. You lift off the ground. It’s just this moment of defying gravity, and you think that anything is possible at that moment.

What’s it like working for San Juan Airlines?

I’ve been working here for about three years, part time. I used to be an airline pilot [for] a larger commercial airline. Once I became a mother, my husband and I decided for me to be a stay-at-home parent. I basically closed the door on aviation and pursued full-on motherhood, which I loved. Then, my son was becoming more independent, and I had a little more free time. It was a chance for me to supplement my husband’s income at the time.

It’s really great to work here because they allow me flexibility without having to compromise anything at home. My company is great. My bosses and the owners — they really care about employees. That, I think, is an essential element for making that possible for parents and families. It’s hard to find any kind of part-time work in a lot of professional fields. So, you end up having one person sacrificing or giving something up entirely when it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m so hesitant to say this sometimes, but it really is a perfect job.

What's it like flying small airplanes throughout the Northwest?

I used to fly really big airplanes and it’s a lot of automation, autopilot. It’s very controlled. When you fly small airplanes, especially out here at San Juan Airlines, we have very short hops in and out of the islands into short strips, oftentimes grass and gravel. It’s like real flying with your hands. There’s no autopilot. Not only that, but it’s so beautiful. Every day it changes, the weather changes. It looks different through the different seasons.

How’d you end up in Bellingham?

I’ve flown all over the country, all over the continent, and every area is unique and has something to offer. But, the Pacific Northwest was always my favorite. [My husband and I] were living in Hong Kong, and when my son was born, he had a medical condition which needed a pediatric care specialist. They didn’t have that in Hong Kong. So we had to come back here so that he could get that care. My husband could only be based in Hong Kong or in some bases in North America, like Vancouver B.C. We just lived over the border [in Bellingham]. It wasn’t really planned, but I also have this belief that whatever your hopes and dreams are — even if you don’t know how they could manifest in the future — just put them out there. Put your wishes and your dreams out there.

Kate Brigham flies by the Twin Sisters on Thursday, June 6 for San Juan Airlines. (Hailey Hoffman/Ca
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