Top-dressing firm at the cutting edge

Top-dressing firm at the cutting edge
The Aero Link Pro software developed by Aerospread has revolutionised the fi rm’s operational effi ciencies.

Bruce Petersen is a busy man with days starting about 4.30 am and extending through to 9 pm at night. The owner/operator of Hawke’s Bay specialist aerial application and top-dressing company Aerospread says running a successful business of this nature takes years of hard-work, discipline, flying skills second-to-none and a willingness to put in long hours.
“We’re up an hour before daylight checking out the situation of the weather that day and getting our loaders prepared so that every moment of day-time is used productively,” Bruce explains.
Bruce established Aerospread in 2002 and today his fleet of 4 PAC Cresco 750’s, powered by Pratt and Whitney PT6 gas turbine engines and 10 loaders works out of three bases in Napier, Waipukurau and Palmerston North.
With thousands of flying hours behind him, Bruce now trains commercial pilots who seek work in this demanding industry.
He says the process from commercial pilot status through to being fully qualified and adept at flying aerial dressing aircraft takes hundreds of hours and years of progressing slowly and for good reason.
“You know its one thing to have the skills to fly a plane, however when you are dealing with working at speeds up to 250km/hr at an altitude of 100 feet above challenging terrain its another skill set entirely.”
By focusing on creating and using technologies to enhance the efficiency of his operation Bruce says he’s able to pass on direct cost benefits to his farmer clients.
“That’s really important for me. I don’t want to waste any time and any material when we’re spreading fertiliser over a property and the Aero Link Pro software developed by Aerospread has revolutionised our efficiencies.”
The software has been used for five years now and the difference it has made to how the topdressing service operates is profound.
In the past, a pilot would meet with a farmer, go over farm maps, or take the farmer for a flight over his property to discuss where the spreading would happen and to check out hazards such as wires tracking across the land, today that is all handled independently by the farmer himself through the computer programme.
“It’s extremely effective and efficient and our clients have welcomed it because it means their time isn’t taken up in discussing face-to-face with the operator where the spreading will take place.
Instead, the farmer maps out all the areas to be covered, identifies all the hazards and even notes nearby organic property on his computer and sends that directly to the pilot who programmes it in through his GPS systems.”
Another software technology, DZMX Bruce believes to be the first in the world, has revolutionised fertiliser loading processes, again creating significant efficiencies for the company and cost benefits in terms of precise amounts spread over exact areas.

Top-dressing firm at the cutting edge
Aerospread’s fleet of 4 PAC Cresco 750’s and 10 loaders works out of three bases in Napier, Waipukurau and Palmerston North.

“We use really accurate scales on our loaders and the quantities of volumes are sent wirelessly to the aircraft.
The pilot has a display that constantly counts and calculates the total weight dropped on each run. It informs the pilot of the area he should have covered depending on the amount of fertiliser dropped.” He also describes the industry as unique in terms of the health and safety compliances.
“Who you work with as a team is crucial because the consequences of error can be extremely serious. You need to be able to fit into a very specific system of work.”
In an industry where the very nature of the work can see costs soaring Bruce says his first obligation is to keep costs under control for his clients.
“My goal is to try and hold costs where they are and to continually improve efficiencies through the use of technology.”
A good example of how Bruce has been able to achieve this is by reducing the weight of the aircraft as much as possible. He now uses a retrofittable hopper box, made from carbon fibre.
By using this material a weight saving of 50 kilograms can be achieved. “This means we can add that amount in additional fertiliser the aircraft can fly with.”
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