Avoiding wires while flying

General Aviation pilots (particularly agricultural pilots) continue to strike wires, such as powerlines, while flying.

Over the past 10 years, there were around 180 wirestrike accidents in Australia. In the majority of these accidents the pilots were aware of the powerlines before they struck them.

Minimise your risk

The following strategies will help minimise the risk of striking wires while flying:

  • Ensure you are physically and mentally fit to fly. Fatigue can adversely affect short-term memory, reaction time, alertness levels and your focus of attention.
  • Set client expectations so that they are clear that safety comes first. This includes managing operational pressures, and not accepting tasks that are beyond your personal minimums.
  • Conduct an aerial reconnaissance before low-flying operations. While a detailed map and a thorough briefing are important, you need to confirm wire locations and other hazards for yourself.
  • Reassess the risks when plans change. Treat any changes in your plan as a 'red flag' - something you should consider and assess before going any further.
  • void unnecessary distractions and refocussing when distracted. Distraction, combined with the difficulty in seeing a wire, makes wires extremely hard to avoid at the last minute.
  • Keep vigilance limitations in mind. The amount of time spent on a monotonous task will affect your ability to remain attentive.
  • Actively look for wires. Without attention, there is no perception. You are unlikely to notice an approaching wire if you are not actively looking for it, even if you were previously aware of it.

More information
The ATSB has released, in association with the Aerial Agriculture Association of Australia, a booklet that highlights recent wirestrike accidents, and the lessons learnt from them. It also highlights the role of landholders and utility owners in contributing to safety. This includes installing markers on wires, particularly where regular low-level flying takes place.

The booklet, Wirestrikes involving known wires: A manageable aerial agriculture hazard is available on the ATSB website.

The Aerial Agriculture Association of Australia and other organisations conduct training in wirestrikes risk management. Further information is available at www.aerialag.com.au

A large range of information is also available on CASA's Wire Strike Resources web page at www.casa.gov.au

Type: Educational Fact Sheet
Publication date: 23 June 2011
Last update 07 April 2014