Skyfarmers Aviation owner Duncan Hart says running his business can be hard work at times, but the cockpit of the company’s Air Tractor 504 is a pretty good office to work from when flying over the hills and coast of Canterbury.
Duncan is following in the wake of his father, Don, in choosing to be a top-dressing pilot. The company was formed in 1982 between pilot Col.
Bolgar and Don Hart to provide aerial topdressing and spraying in Canterbury. In 1987 Don became the sole owner of Skyfarmers Aviation.
Duncan has owned the business since 2007 and Don now only occassionally ventures into the cockpit.
SkyFarmers operates out of Springfield Estate in mid-Canterbury and services the wider Canterbury region and can go further afield as required.
It covers a diverse range of terrain and farm types; one day aircraft can be be spraying specialist vegetable crops on the plains and the next top-dressing fertiliser in the high country.
SkyFarmers operates two Air Tractors and each has a replacement cost of about $US 1.1 million.The aircraft are purpose-built, for agricultural work and firefighting, in Texas.
“They are a multi-role aircraft, because half our work’s spraying as well so it’s ideally suited for what we do. It’s designed around an agpilot.”
The newest aircraft, ZK-SKF, a dual control air-craft, was purchased new in 2012 and is configured for fertiliser and spraying.
Powered by a 750 horsepower Pratt & Whitney turbine, considered to be the worlds safest and most reliable engine, it has a payload of 1900kg.
The second aircraft, an Air Tractor 402B ZK-SAT was purchased new in 1995 and is also configured for fertiliser and spraying.
Its payload is 1470kg. A third aircraft, a Pacific Aerospace Fletcher ZK-BII is used only as backup.
The advantage of aerial application is the ability to cover large areas quickly as well as being able to cover terrain that trucks cannot safely operate on.
Aerial spraying and spreading can offer considerable advantages over ground application, particularly where a farm has irrigation pivots or laterals.
It eliminates creating ruts in the ground and also has the ability to cover a large area quickly.
Following the outbreak of potato psyllid in New Zealand, some potato crops require spraying every seven to ten days for up to four months.
One of the challenges of the business is that it is highly weather dependent and aircraft can only work within a particular parameters.
Having two aircraft is a significant advantage, as when conditions are favourable there is a lot of pressure to get work completed.
“We can get the work done when the [weather] window comes right.”
In recent years there has been a concerted focus on health and safety, both on the part of top dressers and farmers who have aerial operations on their property; this has been particularly necessary in an industry which suffered a high rate of loss of life in earlier decades.
Aerial topdressing is also much safer today due to improvements in aircraft design, along with farmer’s understanding of having a safe work place to operate in and better training for new entrants into the industry, Duncan says.
“You can have all the rules and regulations in the world, but it comes down to the pilot’s decision-making skills.”
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