Farmers can be held responsible for crashes caused by agricultural aircraft hitting wires on their properties, even if the pilots were not contracted by them, warns Alan Beck, chair of the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association.
Aircraft safety is farmers’ responsibility too, says Alan Beck, chair of the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association.
“Many farmers don’t understand that even though a pilot may not be working on
their farm, if his machine hits a wire on it, the farmer could face prosecution for an unsafe workplace.
“The Civil Aviation Authority says the workplace is the airspace or the area required by a pilot to turn, manoeuvre or manipulate the controls of an aircraft so he can fly.
“So unfortunately, if the neighbouring farmer has a wire strung across a gully, this is classed as a hazard in the way of a pilot for which the farmer is likely to be prosecuted.”
Alan is actively promoting the NZAAA’s Down to the Wire campaign which aims to inform farmers about the risks wires pose for pilots and to encourage their removal.
Federated Farmers is supporting the campaign with Taranaki president Bronwyn Muir saying the simple solution is to eliminate the wires.
Not only will that save lives, it could save farmers a $600,000 fine or a prison term in the case of an agricultural pilot being injured by hitting a wire on their property.
She advises anyone arranging aerial work on their land to talk to neighbours to identify hazards before the pilot starts the job.
"Farmers who can’t get power to the back of their farms have options other than wires. They can use solar power.
“There are solutions other than just drawing off the main power unit at the front of the farm, and they could save someone’s life."
Alan says a number of farmers are removing electric wires and finding other ways of controlling stock, and he applauds that, especially as he knows from personal experience the consequences of flying into wires.
Alan broke his back when the helicopter he was flying struck wires in 1992. Recently his son David Beck had a near-miss when applying fertiliser on a beef farm near Midhurst.
“New Zealand has had a brutally high fatality rate. There have been 23 wire-strike fatalities in New Zealand in the last 40 years.
“Agricultural pilots must be constantly alert to hazards in their daily operations, such as short airstrips, improvised landing areas, obstacles, wires and changing weather conditions.”
However, unmarked wires strung across gullies can be incredibly hard to see from the air and farmers must play a part in improving pilot safety by removing them, he says.