It saddens me to read about the fatality of an ag-pilot. Recently, one died in Brazil that I knew from my visits there, even once visiting this particular pilot. He was not the first ag-pilot I’ve known that has been killed while doing what they loved; flying ag.
This year in the U.S. has been uncharacteristically lethal. We have lost 13 and the season is yet to be over. A more typical loss is 5-7 pilots a year, depending on many factors. One exceptional year no pilots were killed. However, this year, no one seems to be able to determine a common denominator for the fatalities.
I recently read a study carried out by the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) where 10 years of accidents in fixed wing ag-aircraft were analyzed. The study grouped the type of accidents, i.e. loss of control, abnormal runway contact, ground handling, system/component failure and collision with terrain/obstacle. The study also sorted by hours flown. A surprising oddity came from the study and that was 52% of the accidents were ag-pilots with more than 10,000 hours of flight time, while only 16% were of ag-pilots with 2,000 or less hours.
Fortunately, the study did not stop with this data, but continued to analyze why this seemingly anomaly occurred. The explanation was believable in that when the various categories were studied, it was found the high-time pilots’ accidents were more from circumstances out of their control versus the opposite being true for the low time pilots.
You will be able to read more about this very interesting study in this edition of AgAir Update. Take the time to understand the graphs and the analogies made by the study and rationalize how this information affects you. We operate in a challenging business that can take a life in one moment of complacency. We, as pilots, can make it as safe, or as dangerous, as we desire. It is preferable to make it safer and err on the side of caution. I am not disputing the data. However, I think a few data sets are not addressed that may further explain the higher incident of accidents for 10,000+ hours pilots. For an ag-pilot to log 10,000 hours, in all likelihood, he flies high-time seasons. Whereas the less than 2,000-hour pilot may just be starting out with less hours flown during a season. My speculation would be the 10,000+ hours pilot is exposed to the risk of ag-flying at a greater level than the 2,000-hour ag-pilot.
Another point is it would be expected of 10,000+ hours ag-pilots, many are flying more sophisticated and complex ag-aircraft versus the 2,000-hour ag-pilot. Of course, there is a curve in the data where the closer the relatively low-time ag pilot approaches the 2,000-hour mark, it is more likely the pilot is flying more sophisticated and complex aircraft and experiencing longer seasons. However, the data does not separate those issues. My point is the faster and heavier ag-aircraft have the potential to challenge the skills of even a 10,000+ hours pilot.
What do you do when faced with a decision; Do I fly under this wire? Do I cut back 50 or 80 liters of my load? Do I take off from the mix area, or taxi to the opposite end to takeoff into the wind? There are so many decisions ag-pilots make daily that determine the outcome of that day. Often, you can ask yourself when making these decisions, “Does it really matter?”
Usually, the decisions are time-related. In almost every scenario, it is about time; flying over more hectares in a day, or finishing the application job before inclement weather. Sometimes, decisions are dictated by the odds of mechanics. For instance, you have an extra drop in your mag check, or your ITT is a little higher today. Do you play the odds and continue, or do you have the problem checked out?
As decision makers, as ag-pilots, it is our duty to fly in the safest possible manner. This is what separates professionals from “cowboys”. Professionals make more money and live longer.
Until next month,