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Wire Strike Accidents Are Top Concern for Aerial Applicators

Posted 145 days ago ago by Admin

By Scott Bretthauer, director of policy, education and safety, National Agricultural Aviation Association

Wire-strike accidents consistently rank as one of the top causes of both total and fatal agricultural aviation accidents. A review by the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) of agricultural aviation wire-strike accidents from 2017 to 2021 revealed that 54% of the accidents involved helicopters. For reference, according to the latest FAA GA survey data, helicopters represent 23% of the total ag. aviation fleet and 20% of the hours flown making aerial applications. Regarding the location of the wires struck, 62% of the time the wire was in the field receiving the application; 38% of the time the wire was located along the edge of the field. 

The slower speed and maneuverability of helicopters compared to fixed-wing aircraft make them well suited for working around wires and other obstructions. However, that does not make them immune from these obstructions. While the performance of a helicopter may tempt you to get close to obstacles to treat every part of a field, do not let this temptation lead you into an accident. Maintain a safe distance from all obstacles and remember the adage that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If a customer asks you to spray a field that you aren’t comfortable with because of wires or other obstructions—say no. 

Experience is often considered to be a factor that leads to reduced risk for having an accident, but 69% of the pilots who had a wire-strike had more than 2,500 hours total time, and 22% of the pilots had more than 15,000 hours total time. Where limited experience seemed to play a role was time in the type of aircraft involved in the accident – 39% of pilots had less than 500 hours in the type of aircraft in which they struck a wire. 

You must conduct a thorough reconnaissance of the application site to scout for poles, hardware and other signs of wires, towers, and any other type of obstruction. It’s recommended you make two complete reconnaissance orbits around the application site in opposite directions instead of just one. The second orbit in the opposite direction will give you a different point of view and a better chance of seeing potential hazards. It is critical you conduct follow-up reconnaissance orbits prior to trimming up a field, anytime you change swath directions, or if you return to a job after a pause. 

Do not let your familiarity with a field convince you that reconnaissance is unnecessary. Just because you’ve already sprayed a field earlier in the year doesn’t mean a new wire or obstruction hasn’t been placed in your path. Vegetation growth can shroud guy-wire anchor points that were clearly visible earlier in the season.

As noted in a recent ROTOR Daily story, aerial applicators frequently collide with wires they were aware of. Since you scout for wires at the beginning of the application, at some point they can easily be lost from your short-term memory as other application tasks occupy your thoughts. It is critical that you have an active mental/verbal system in place to prevent short-term memory loss of wires. 

NAAA urges all aerial applicators, both helicopter and fixed-wing, to attend the “Flying in the Wire-and-Obstruction Environment” course, presented by utility and aviation specialists. The course is available at NAAA’s Ag Aviation Expo and HAI HELI-EXPO. This course can save your life.

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