14 Apr 2009

Upgrade of rural top dressing strips seen as commercial decision

6:51 am on 14 April 2009

Federated Farmers considers upgrading farm airstrips to take aircraft delivering bigger top-dressing loads is a commercial, rather than a safety, issue.

The Agriculture Aviation Association says there's an increasing accident or incident rate involving fixed wing aircraft engaged in agricultural work, with on average a death every nine months.

One of the issues identified in a Civil Aviation Authority safety review was the poor standard of some farm landing strips and their unsuitability for aircraft which have been modified to carry bigger loads of fertiliser.

But Federated Farmers health & safety spokesperson Frank Brenmuhl says upgrading airstrips to take those aircraft would have to be a commercial decision.

He says it depends on whether there is a choice between a bigger or smaller plane and comes down to the relationship between the operator and his client.

However, the head of one of the biggest top-dressing companies, says farmers have to accept that pilots have the right to refuse to operate on airstrips that they consider unsafe.

Graeme Martin of Super Air in Hamilton, says airstrip standards are included in Labour Department guidelines that Federated Farmers helped to develop.