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Flying High

Leonardo Da Vinci was quoted as saying, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards.” Holding one of the highest pilot certifications, Craig Sanderson spread his wings upward to serve as director of operations for Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines and mayor of the small but bustling town of Tusayan.

Sanderson acquired the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification at 28 years old. It is one of the most advanced certifications a pilot can obtain and necessary for any pilot wanting to fly commercial airliners, which was Sanderson’s intention. However, he had a change of plans. 

“I learned early on that flying commercial airlines was not my cup of tea,” said Sanderson, who flew commercial airline flights for more than a year. “I’d rather fly over beautiful areas such as Lake Powell, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.” So, that is what he did. “My first job was flying scenic flights for Skywest Airlines based out of Page. The sights are so amazing and I loved sharing that view with people.”

Sanderson spent the first three years of his life in Page, and that is where he met his wife, Sheila, and raised their three children. They currently have five grandchildren. They made their move to Tusayan in 2002 where he began working for Grand Canyon Airlines.

“Craig has a passion for the Grand Canyon and does an outstanding job,” said GCSA President Jake Tomlin. “We’re so pleased to have him on our team, since tourism and hospitality runs in his family.”

Indeed, Sanderson’s love for sharing beautiful sights was inherited from his father, Bill Sanderson, who, along with his brothers, started one of the first river running companies in Page, Sanderson River Expeditions.

“The Bureau of Reclamation was looking to build three dams on the Colorado River and they asked my uncles to take them down the river. After the river trip, the Bureau of Reclamation gave a couple of Army surplus rafts to the family and the river running business started from there.” The company was sold in the 70s and is currently owned by Aramark, running as Wilderness River Expeditions. 

“I never wanted to get into politics, never saw myself as a politician, but about six years ago, there was a recall election and the mayor at the time approached me and said, ‘Hey, you need to run for council.’ I said, ‘No way, you’re crazy, that’s not me.’ So, he told me about the town and why we need housing here and how people struggle.”

Sanderson served as council member, vice-mayor and, finally, mayor.

In 2016, Sanderson was Tusayan’s first directly elected mayor. His primary goal is to improve the quality of life for the people who live in Tusayan and to enhance the experience of the more than six million visitors who pass through the community to the Grand Canyon.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Mayor Craig Sanderson to advance and improve the Town Court in Tusayan,” said Judge Rob Krombeem, Justice of the Peace, Williams Justice Court. “Mayor Sanderson brings the type of forward-thinking, collaborative leadership that more communities need, particularly in these times of fiscal and other community challenges. He leads by example with a servant’s heart and I appreciate how he puts faith and family at the forefront of his priorities.”

If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

“Peacemaker: having the personality to diffuse volatile situations and to help others reach a middle-ground compromise.” 

What’s your favorite thing to do when not working?

“Our family loves boating and swimming, especially at Lake Powell. At my job, I can’t call it work when I get to fly and experience the beauty and awesomeness of this amazing place I have the privilege to call home.” 

Where do you like to travel?

Lake Powell and Grand Canyon are my top two. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job at Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines?

“Over my long career, I’ve contributed to the success of about a thousand pilots who began their careers working with and for me. Most of these pilots are now flying with a major airline.” 

What is the prettiest sight you’ve seen from an airplane?

“Wow! With over 20,000 flight hours, mostly over the national parks, I see beautiful sights every day. The most incredible are the ones that only last a few minutes. Grand Canyon and Lake Powell are beautiful on any day, but the right combination of sunlight, thundershowers and/or clouds can turn incredible into unbelievable. FBN

By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN

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