On 17 September 2015, the pilot of an Air Tractor 502B aircraft, registered VH-FNX, was conducting aerial application (spraying) operations on a property about 23 km to the west of Hay Aerodrome, New South Wales.

As per normal procedure, while en route to the spray application area, the pilot had made a broadcast on UHF Channel 25 advising that spraying operations were about to commence, and also, the area where that would occur. UHF Channel 25 was monitored by employees on the property, and used for general communications.

The driver of a tractor operating in the southern part of the spray application area responded to the pilot’s broadcast. The pilot advised the tractor driver that they would be able to safely continue in that southern area for about another hour.

After a short time, the pilot departed the spray application area and reloaded the aircraft with more chemical mixture at a nearby property. The pilot then returned to the spray allocation area at about 1130. This time, the pilot did not make another UHF broadcast, but noted that the tractor was now in transit between work areas, with a Toyota Hilux Double-Cab utility vehicle following closely behind.

At about 1145 as the pilot was conducting a spray run to the east, the pilot reported seeing the Hilux turn onto an irrigation channel crossing ahead of the aircraft. However as the vehicle appeared to be slowing to a stop short of the intersection, the pilot assumed the Hilux driver had seen the aircraft, so continued with the spray run. After checking the spray nozzles on the wings, and the spray pressure gauge, the pilot initiated a short climb to clear the raised channel bank.

The pilot then sighted the Hilux on the highest part of the channel bank. The pilot immediately ceased the spray and initiated a steeper climb. During this attempt, the left wheel of the aircraft struck the tray headboard of the Hilux from behind.

The pilot radioed for assistance for the driver and flew to nearby property to land.

As a result of this occurrence, the agricultural company have revised some procedures, roles and responsibilities. This accident highlights the importance of effective communication by all parties involved with aircraft operations.

ATSB Research and Analysis Report AR-2015-031 Aerial application safety: 2014 to 2015 year in review, provides statistical data regarding aerial application accident rates, and summarises a number of accidents that occurred during aerial application operations.


Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 47

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