Capt. John Powis saluted his Juneau airport ground crew early today, then piloted his Alaska Airlines 737 toward the runway as a deluge fell from an overcast sky. It was a scene Powis has seen many times during his 35 years with Southeast Alaska's largest air carrier.
Only this time, the water in part was a hydro-archway created by two fire trucks the airline's way of bidding thank you and farewell to Powis, who taxied through the arch and departed Juneau as an Alaska Airlines pilot for the final time.
"It's a shame; we'll miss him," said 20-year Alaska Airlines employee Alice McNamara. "He's a wonderful person."
After stopping in Juneau, Powis concluded Flight 73, and his career, with flights to Anchorage and Seattle.
Powis is two days shy of his 60th birthday. While virtually every Alaska Airlines employee interviewed felt as if he remains exceedingly capable of continuing his career, Federal Aviation Administration regulations require that an airline transport pilot retire at 60.
"It's kind of bittersweet," noted Powis, who received hugs and warm wishes from a number of people in the Juneau Airport before departing to Ketchikan.
On board, a banner reading "Happy Retirement" stretched through the aircraft's entryway. Flight attendants, including Powis' wife, Carolyn, wore T-shirts emblazoned with Powis' face.
"Truly, he epitomizes everything good you like to see in a pilot," said Capt. Kim Kaiser, a long-time friend of Powis' who co-piloted Flight 73. "This is a classic case where some of us find the rule is a disappointment. He's right on top of the profession."
It's about the only disappointing part of a distinguished career.
Powis began with Alaska Airlines in 1966 after serving at Hamilton Air Force base in California. The first passenger flight he piloted was on a piston-driven Super Constellation.
"There weren't too many jets around then," Powis noted.
In the late 60s he flew cargo flights that included drilling rigs, tractors and other pieces of machinery used to construct the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. In 1969, he flew his first 727.
"It's probably the most wonderful airplane I've flown," Powis said.
He went on to pilot other models in Boeing's 700 series and became an instructor for new pilots. In fact, Kaiser trained under Powis and became the 727 fleet manager in the 1980s.
"He hired me as an instructor and I worked closely with him," Kaiser said. "He's been a mentor for me, a role model. There aren't enough superlatives to describe him.
"Whether flying or instructing, he's done so much for Alaska Airlines and its customers."
With just a few exceptions, Powis said, it's been smooth sailing.
"I hit a moose in Cordova in 1967 while landing at night," he said. "It sheared the nosegear off."
In Southeast, he said, dealing with the weather was the biggest concern.
After 35 years of low ceilings and pouring rain, this morning's watery sendoff probably was the perfect conclusion.
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