Aerial application safety 2015-2016 year in review

Safety summary

Why the ATSB did this research

Aerial application operations encounter different risks compared to other aviation sectors because these pilots work at very low-levels. Working at these levels means that pilots encounter more hazards, such as powerlines, trees, and poles. When working at these levels, pilots have a high workload to navigate these hazards, and have a shorter reaction time if they encounter an issue and need to respond accordingly. Recent investigations by the ATSB have also highlighted the risks during an operation if the aircraft is overloaded, such as airframe damage. This is the second report in a series of publications on aerial application (including aerial spraying, spreading, and fire control). This report will cover accidents and serious incidents reported to the ATSB between May 2015 and April 2016 to coincide with the previous operational year.

What the ATSB found

Between May 2015 and April 2016, there were 29 accidents and serious incidents reported to the ATSB. Of these, 16 were accidents and 13 were serious incidents (near accidents). The most prevalent occurrence was wirestrike, comprising nearly 40 per cent of all occurrences (11 occurrences). Other types of accidents and serious incidents were engine failure or malfunction (6), collision with terrain (3), controlled flight into terrain (2), and runway excursions (2). Safety factors relating to human factors were most prevalent, in particular monitoring and checking, which contributed to 35 per cent of occurrences.

Safety message

Given the nature of these operations there are strategies to lower risks. The Aerial Application Association of Australia (AAAA) have published strategies in their pilots manual that can be applied to managing wirestrikes and engine failures. One strategy is planning. In regards to wirestrikes, planning involves knowing the location of wires in the area and organising the spraying pattern accordingly. Planning to manage the event of an engine failure includes noting potentially safe areas to land, such as open fields. Another strategy is to maintain focus during the task, such as continually reminding yourself of the presence of wires, and in the case of engine failure, focusing on following procedures will assist in avoiding further damage.


Statistical trends in aerial application

Completed investigations

2015–2016 Occurrences

Ongoing investigations

Table summary of 2015–2016 aerial application occurrences

Sources and submissions

Reporting to the ATSB

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Investigation number: AR-2016-022
Publication date: 16 September 2016
Last update 02 August 2017
Download complete document - Aerial application safety: 2015-2016 year in review
Download complete document
[ Download PDF: 5.9MB]