To fulfill holiday wishes and bucket-list adventures, pilot T.J. Park flies passengers over the scenic Lost River Valley and the vast Arco Desert.
“I just ask people to help pay for fuel,” the Moore resident said. “It’s not about making money. I just want to give people opportunities I never had when I was growing up here.”
Passengers in his four-seat Cessna 170 range from children to senior citizens.
“Kids want to know what it’s like to fly and might become pilots themselves one day, so I’ll make a 30-minute loop to the Mackay Reservoir and back to town,” he said. “Some seniors want to see the mountains but can’t hike anymore, so we’ll go up for about an hour. They can take photos and feel like they’re on a mountaintop. The mountains and Craters of the Moon look phenomenal from the air.”
Next spring, he plans to offer free flights to veterans.
“Our little flight business has been a big hit in the valley,” Park said of Lost River Aviation, which he and his wife, Kelsi, recently established. “We’ve even helped ranchers find cows they missed during roundup in the valley or on the desert.”
He flies on his days off from working at Idaho National Laboratory, where he writes procedures for maintenance workers at the Advanced Test Reactor site.
Park, 32, has been promoting aviation in Custer and Butte counties since he obtained his private pilot’s license in 2013.
“My goal is to bring the aviation community back to Arco and Mackay,” he said.
He is also working with local government leaders, the Idaho Division of Aeronautics, and the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain grants to repave the runways at the airports in Mackay and Arco and to have fuel available for pilots in Mackay.
Living in Moore, about halfway between Mackay and Arco, Park flies from either town’s airport. When the Arco-Butte County Airport board of directors needed a chairman, he volunteered in February 2017.
Since childhood, Park dreamed of flying. Growing up across the street from the Mackay Airport, he watched pilots take off and land.
“It made me develop a passion for aviation,” he said. “I always wanted to be a pilot, but it was unaffordable when I was young.”
In 2013, he took flying lessons at the Blackfoot Airport. He completed the program in 10 months, passing written tests and the required 40 hours of flight. In 2015, he earned his commercial pilot’s license, enabling him to take passengers.
Last year, when a friend at work wanted to sell his Cessna 170, Park bought it.
“It’s a versatile dependable plane that’s often used in the Alaskan bush,” he said. “He wanted a smaller plane, and the Cessna was perfect for me to take passengers. We fly our planes together a lot.”
Between Blackfoot and the Mackay Reservoir, about a dozen backcountry runways dot the landscape, enabling pilots and passengers to explore the region from the air.
“There’s so much to do here with fishing, golfing, hunting, and seeing the local mining history,” he said of Mackay. “People can fly in, rent a golf cart to drive around town or a UTV to explore the Mine Hill.”
He is optimistic about the future of aviation in the valley and plans to offer flying lessons one day.
“You see a totally different perspective from the air,” he said. “It’s such an unforgettable experience and keeps people coming back.”