• Bert Quin

Topdressing aircraft pilot safety

The topdressing aircraft fleet has declined from about 75 in 1990 to only 30 now. Reasons include the removal of fertiliser subsidies (1980s), the use of more concentrated P ferts, the replacement of the Fletcher with the 2-tonne payload Cresco, the reduced use of lime, and the increased use of helicopters.

But there will always be a need for topdressing aircraft. Helicopter costs are huge on remote farms at higher application rates. Already, farmers sometimes have to wait months for an aircraft to be available in their area.

I have always had the greatest admiration for topdressing aircraft pilots. I still vividly remember being taken on one at work in the Wairarapa in 1987!

The recent pilot death in the area was yet another unnecessary death. The indestructable driver 'tub' technology developed for racecars must be incorporated into all new topdressing aircraft. The impact momentum of a crashing topdressing aircraft is typically less than that of a Formula 1 car, Indycar or Nascar making direct impact with a concrete wall at over 250 km/hr. Drivers now survive this.

Farmers must accept the higher costs of safer aircraft to save lives. Their spreading costs can be much reduced anyway by using hi-P ferts like RPR. This is a simple fact.