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Ag pilot competency checks: CAA leaves a mess in its wake

CAA - the fox in charge of the henhouse

CAA – the fox is in charge of the henhouse

The CAA is clearly in difficulties over its plans to reform the testing regime for agricultural pilots, particularly since the GAA pointed out that much of the proposed reform was not practical – particularly for the single-seat, single-control fixed-wing aircraft. Yes, it may be “legal” using the subtle differences in interpretation between a “passenger”, a“crew member” and a “required crew member”.

However, legality does not necessarily translate into a safe operation.

There are serious Health and Safety implications in the CAA’s proposals. Protests from the ag operators have highlighted the hazards. The CAA has adroitly passed the health and safety issues back to the operators and made them responsible for mitigating the dangers.

Because some of the single-control aircraft do not have a specific reference in their operating limitation pages of their flight manuals (a single-control Fletcher aircraft has only a placard on the panel, for example), the CAA says that the manufacturers do not specifically prohibit the carriage of a person in the jump seat during actual agricultural operations. However, a GA 200C Fatman, for example, does have a specific reference in the limitations pages to the fact that the passenger seat must not be occupied during agricultural operations and therefore an E Cat or a flight examiner may not be legally carried in that seat.

To mitigate the risks of restricted control movement caused by the person occupying the passenger seat during actual agricultural operations, the CAA has passed that responsibilty over to the PIC to ensure he has full and free control movement before takeoff. Whether this control check adequately takes into account the person in the passenger seat shifting his pre-takeoff seated position during a critical phase of flight, such as the low level reversal turns at the end of a spray or topdressing run, is open to conjecture.

As a result of submissions regarding the difficulties in complying with AC 61-15, the CAA has modified its stance and now permits ground observations of Ag competency checks in single-control, single-seat aircraft, provided they are backed up with high resolution video footage taken from within the cockpit.

The CAA is delegated to manage the new Health and Safety Act in the sphere of aviation. We question how the CAA can be expected to carry out an independent investigation of its own ACs and AMCs when it is, in effect, the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Ag pilots – a tiny and easily identifiable group for the CAA – were never individually consulted when the Authority issued its first AC about flight testing.

The Authority’s latest Advisory Circular is now up to Revision 5.

Of course, all this nonsense could have been avoided by proper consultation.

The General Manager GA has told us that there is no requirement for the CAA to consult on the addition of an AMC (Acceptable Means of Compliance) to an AC, although it may disclose and discuss the AMC informally but not necessarily with all interested parties.

However, the parties most affected by the Rule and the first version of the AC were the single-seat, single-control, fixed-wing Ag pilots – and they were not specifically consulted. We ask the obvious question: “How hard would that have been?”

We say that the way the Authority handles ACs and AMCs amounts to regulation by stealth, there being no compulsory requirement to consult with all interested parties – leaving the CAA at liberty to advise hand-picked groups claiming to represent the industry.

 

♦ If you have written to the CAA – on any subject – don’t just keep it to yourself and them. You can share it with fellow aviators by sending it to the GAA as well. Email to admin [at] caa [dot] gen [dot] nz

 

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