AirCare Best Practice Guidelines

June 2012

Safety guidelines for working with the agricultural aviation industry

The aviation industry has developed a programme to deliver best practice, called AIRCARE. Part of this is an environmental management system which is helping the industry be sustainable.

Agricultural aviation has been around since 1949 and the industry association has been in existence since 1950. The industry had its beginnings as an aerial topdressing industry using small war-surplus fixed wing aircraft. Its fortunes have risen and fallen in sympathy with the prosperity or otherwise of hill country farmers but the industry is acknowledged as having enabled hill country pastoral farming. The industry has grown to include helicopters and a range of activities not even conceived of in 1949.

These days activities include:

• Topdressing

• Spraying forestry and weeds in hill country, and pests and disease in viticulture, horticulture, pip fruit and kiwifruit (mostly all done by helicopters)

• Spreading vertebrate toxic agents

• Frost control

• Drying fruit following rain

The industry is relatively small comprising about:

• 106 companies

• 106 fixed wing aircraft

• 190 helicopters

• 330 pilots

The industry is a huge part of NZ farming. It punches above its weight because its contribution over the past decade has been estimated at $2 billion a year of export income that would be lost if the industry didn’t exist.

Pilots have identified a series of environmental issues as threats to the agricultural aviation industry:

• Fertiliser placement

• Land and water contamination

• Spray drift

• 1080

• Noise

• Consistency between council rules

• Complexity of council rules

To help address these and other issues the industry is running a three-year project entitled Environmental Best Practice for Agricultural and Rural Aviation supported by the Sustainable Farming Fund (Project 11/076) and a raft of stakeholders.

At 16 regional meetings pilots, stakeholders and regional regulators got together to explore ways to produce regional rules which were consistent, uncomplicated and required best practice in respect of both aviation and regulatory outcomes.

Both regulators and pilots want similar outcomes. Regulators don’t want fertiliser put into waterways but pilots don’t want product going off target either, as that is not what they are being paid to deliver. Both groups have similar objectives – it’s just that up until now they have been following two different pathways to achieve their objectives.

The project team is writing a guidance note to go on the Quality Planning website run by the Ministry for the Environment. This is a site council planners use to find out what best practice is for the different industries. One outcome of this should be more consistency between regional plans.


Given that most of the pilots work in more than one region and often work on farms split between two regions, having consistency would save a lot of frustration.

The aviation industry has developed the AIRCARE programme that delivers best practice. It involves all sectors of aviation except airlines, and has an environmental management system which agricultural aviation is interested in.

AIRCARE is an accreditation program that brings flight safety and environmental safety together under one safety assurance process. It was launched at Parliament on 10 May 2011 and is getting enthusiastic support from aerial operators, regulators and customers with a number of large customers such as DOC and Landcorp requiring AIRCARE accreditation as a condition of contract.

Landcorp is also a stakeholder supporter and its business manager Graeme Mulligan is the project chairman.

With respect to the Environmental Management System there are four codes of practice to which operators have to comply:

• GROWSAFE® Management of Agrichemicals (NZS8409:2004)

• SPREADMARK™ Code of Practice for the Placement of Fertilisers in NZ

• AIRCARE™ Code of Practice for the Aerial Application of Vertebrate Toxic Agents

• AIRCARE™ Code of Practice for Noise Abatement

There are just three components to AIRCARE:

1. Pilots have to hold certificates in Growsafe, Approved Handler and Noise Abatement. As far as is known, NZ is the first country in the world to offer a formal qualification in noise abatement.

2. The company is required to demonstrate compliance with the four codes of practice and the Safety Management System itself.

3. The programme is independently audited.

Pilots have certificates that show they have adequate knowledge of the codes, and the company has to be able to demonstrate that it operates in accordance with those codes every time it goes to work.

One outcome the project seeks is to have regulators require AIRCARE™ Accreditation as a condition for spraying and topdressing as a permitted activity. In other words if a Regional Air Plan required AIRCARE™ Accreditation then every aerial operator working in that region would have to become accredited to work there or would have to get a resource consent for every single job they undertook.

Requiring this has two big pluses for both the industry and the regulator:

1. The regulator would be assured best practice was being followed and so long as it was, then things like spray drift incidents would disappear because if a pilot is working in accordance with the GROWSAFE® Code of Practice, adverse effects from spray drift won’t happen. And that takes the heat off councils who are often reluctant to pursue these events because of the resources required to get a conviction.

2. The industry would benefit by everyone operating in accordance with best practice. This means the industry has a much better chance of being sustainable. Overseas agricultural aviation has been regulated out of existence and NZ can ill afford such an outcome here.

So far 27 agricultural operators are signed up and accredited to the AIRCARE programme.

Super Air, which is owned by Ballance, was one of the first to sign up to it. It’s manager Graeme Martin, chairs the NZAAA, and is very health and safety conscious.

Says Lindsey Cameron, a pilot for Super Air; “The industry has gone from a very cowboyish industry to very professional now. I’ve worked just over nine years as a pilot, all for Super Air, and in my first five years I went to six funerals for pilots and loader drivers. We are dealing with millions of dollars of aircraft, and people’s livelihoods and lives. We can’t afford to put product off site. Attitudes have changed hugely but there are still some problems, and wires are one of them. Wires kill people and wreck a lot of gear and you don’t see them. Personally I’ve had three majors with them where farmers haven’t told me about them, and it was pure luck I have missed them.

Most farms have at least one electric lead-out wire which runs across a gully. It is an issue for fixed wing planes, but more of a problem for helicopters because they sit just above fence height for spraying.

Instead of using more insulators and clipping wires to the existing fences, farmers will run a wire across a gully. We want farmers to tie down these wires to fences.

Another big problem is the condition of the bins for storing fertiliser at the airstrips. A pilot up north was killed as the result of a poor quality bin. He was under pressure from the client and was putting on lime which was wet. He left behind a wife and three kids.

Bins have to be able to keep fertiliser safe, secure and dry. Fertiliser bins which leak or don’t have concrete floors can create serious problems: water gets in to the fertiliser, makes it lumpy. When that happens it doesn’t flow properly and you can’t jettison it if you get into problems.

I have turned down jobs when I think the facilities are not up to standard. With top dressing planes only coming to work on a farm once or twice a year, upgrading bins can easily go out of farmers’ minds.

I have 46 bins I work out of in my area around Rotorua, and probably have eight or ten I wouldn’t be 100% happy with. I have seen bins that should be bulldozed and started again. I still have three bins with dirt floors. As soon as product goes on these bin floors, there’s a shower of rain, and moisture comes through the floor and into the product.

Clients are dropping $20,000 to $60,000 worth of product in these bins. If we can continue to cart product to good bins during bad weather, then when the weather comes right we can keep working and move a lot of product for farmers.

I’m worried nothing will happen until someone else dies and the coroner or the Labour Department goes through and prosecutes.”

Farmers are required to provide a safe workplace. AIRCARE doesn’t make any requirements on farmers. But it does require operators to have robust risk management strategies in place, and that may mean persuading farmers to improve substandard facilities.

The facilities debate came about as an outcome of the regional meetings when pilots were asked: What’s working well for you? What’s not working well?

There is a safety guideline already developed by CAA, NZAAA, the Department of Labour and Federated Farmers, but there hasn’t been enough support from farmers for this yet.

These safety guidelines are available from :”

For more information on AIRCARE™ visit