Last week, Anchorage-based Zita Air made its first charter run with a Piper Cherokee Lance, delivering folks to Kokhanok for the winter carnival. The flight was months, and even years, in the making.
Owner Danielle Troll grew up in Anchorage, a second generation Alaskan. But she didn’t have any pilots in her family, and didn’t know much about aviation growing up.
“One day, I was about 17,” Troll recalled. “And I remember where I was standing. And I just
thought, all of a sudden, that I wanted to be a pilot. The question in my
head was: can women be pilots?”
The answer? Yes.
But even now, it sometimes surprises her passengers, too.
“Mostly my funny moments are people commenting on how I’m a woman pilot. Once a man from New Stu said ‘holy cups I get to fly with a beautiful woman!’ It was really funny.”
She went to UAA for a degree in aviation technology. While she was there, she got a job with an existing airline servicing Bristol Bay, called Kamikaze.
“Joel Jacko was flying groceries to the Nushagak area. And I started working for him shopping. It was really cool timing because everything I learned at school I could go. Everything stuck in my mind and I got to apply what I learned, so that was really cool.”
She got to know the region a little better through her husband and his family. And though Kamikaze changed hands and names a few times, and Troll worked elsewhere, the region stayed in her mind.
So last fall, she bought what used to be Kamikaze, with an eye toward expanding the grocery delivery service to haul passengers.
“My favorite part of my job is getting to know my customers.
It’s different than flying for a big airline, ‘cause in that case you don’t get to know your customers, it’s just a bunch of different people. Seeing a customer satisfied because I brought their birthday cake in time for their daughter or they just got a box of fresh produce or they had a good flight or something, that’s really rewarding. There’s so many factors that can prevent that from happening that aren’t really in my control, like weather, so it just makes it more epic when it works out.”
Every passenger, every person waiting on cargo knows how frustrating
weather can be. Aside from the mountains of paperwork necessary to getting
certified for passengers, Troll says weather has been her biggest challenge
this winter. But even that is just part of the job, she says.
“Like if everything is easy all the time, you’re not learning or improving. Every day I want to learn to be a better person and get better at what I do.”
As for the name Zita? It means little girl. There was an Italian Saint Zita, a servant who set an example with her work ethic and perseverance, and dedication to God. It’s a story that’s encouraged and inspired Troll, and one she hopes to emulate.