Warning on overloading
Peter Beck: “If the CAA doesn’t catch you, the Grim Reaper will.”
Agricultural pilots, both rotary and fixed wing, have once again been warned not to overload their aircraft.
Alan Beck, chairman of the NZ Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA), says pilots who do this are risking their lives, and if they don’t get killed or injured they face prosecution from the CAA. He says the CAA is conducting a campaign against overloading ag aircraft, and already one operator has been put out of business because of this.
He says anecdotally only a few operators are overloading their aircraft, but this is now completely unacceptable.
“For years overloading was the accepted norm, and there is no question that in the early days overloading was the cause of many crashes,” says Alan.
“But in the last decade there has been a huge shift to take the stress off the aircraft and make it safer. If you are loaded right up to the maximum and you are going up a gully and you get a sudden wind change you don’t have any reserve, and if you can’t get rid of the load quickly enough you are doomed.
“Our message is that if the CAA doesn’t catch you, the Grim Reaper will,” he says.
Alan says the NZAAA supports what the CAA is doing and its initiative to crack down on overloading. He says he personally believes the reason for the problem is the fragile economic state of the industry. The pressure is on operators with the severe competition that’s out there to cut the costs to meet the clients’ expectation of what they are prepared to pay.
He says the economics are best illustrated by the way the industry is structured today.
“If you go back to 1989 there were 315 operators—today there are just 20, which is a high attrition rate. It could be because of acquisitions, mergers or people going out of business, but whatever the reality, it’s a very difficult industry in which to stay economic,” Alan says.
He believes that for just on 40 years the industry has not charged enough for its services, and he says the advent of delicensing hasn’t helped the temptation to overload aircraft.
“It’s so easy for a pilot, once he has got enough time, to head out as an ag pilot and get into the system where he can work on his own and basically take the work off the guy that taught him. That’s the ridiculous part of it. All they have got to do is slash the price by 10 percent and the farmer will say Wow,” he says.
Alan Beck says people need to realise that the ag aviation business is very capital intensive and that there are huge costs in maintaining aircraft to a standard. In his view the rates charged by companies over the last 40 years have not been enough to sustain their operations, which is why a great number of people are no longer in business.
- Report and photograph by Peter Burke.
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