Helicopter Frost Protection

Information for Pilots

The CAA currently allows frost protection operations to be carried out for hire or reward under the Civil Aviation Rules, Part 91. Note that any related flights with passengers on board, such as reconnaissance flights to survey vineyards, must be done by the holder of a Part 119 Air Operator Certificate.

Pilots engaging in frost protection flying must hold a Commercial Pilot Licence, Helicopter, and a current night rating.

The New Zealand Helicopter Association (NZHA) has published a standard operating procedure for Aerial Frostfighting Operations. This document provides guidance for managing risks associated with frost protection operations. It can be downloaded from Resources for NZHA.

Information for Residents

From September through to November (and sometimes early December), helicopters are used for frost protection at some vineyards. This can cause concern about safety and noise for neighbours.

These operations are normal under the Civil Aviation Rules. The Rules give requirements that the helicopter operators must meet in order to operate safely. The Civil Aviation Rules do not, however, provide for nuisance, such as noise.

Flights in rural areas are required to operate at a minimum of 500 feet above ground level, except when taking off, landing, or actually conducting the frost protection work. When conducting frost protection work, the Civil Aviation Rules permit the helicopter to be flown at heights required for the purpose of the operation.

The CAA is pro-active in a number of ways to monitor the safety of frost protection operations and compliance with the Civil Aviation Rules. The CAA audits operators to make sure they can legally carry out frost protection, there is surveillance of frost protection operations, and spot checks are also carried out. Information is also provided to helicopter operators to remind them of the risks and safety concerns about these operations.

Residents who have a safety concern can contact the CAA, tel: 0508 4 SAFETY (0508-472 338). This number is available during office hours, with voicemail after hours. Or email: isi@caa.govt.nz.

Residents concerned about nuisance or noise should contact the property owner where the operations are being conducted.

Some factors to keep in mind:

  • Establish that the object of your concern is, in fact, a helicopter. The windmills used at many vineyards can sound remarkably similar.
  • It is very difficult for the human eye to accurately perceive height, so you may think an aircraft is lower than it is.
  • Perception of distance is diminished at night.
  • Perception of where sound is coming from can be affected by rows of trees, hills and valleys, etc.

For further information, see Aviation Concerns.

Information for Winegrowers

Communication

Communication is a vital part of ensuring you have a trouble-free operation. There are a number of steps growers can take:

  • Talk to your neighbours before the frost season. Discuss any concerns involving noise or safety early on. Provide them with a number to contact you on (if they don’t already have it) and encourage them to talk to you before they contact the local Council or the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • If possible, give neighbours likely to be affected as much warning as possible once it has been determined that the likelihood of frost is high.
  • Arrange for the helicopter operator to have their machine(s) in position before nightfall. This will help to minimise the over-flight of built up areas at unsociable hours.
  • In particular, make the pilot aware of any sensitive areas or neighbours bordering your property.

Fuel

Organise a re-fuelling point that can be used on or near your property to avoid the need for constant ferry-flights to the nearest aerodrome. Reduced ferry time will also save you money, increase time over the vines, and help reduce the impact on the wider community in your area.

Landing Site

To make the operation as safe as possible, there are a number of steps you can take in advance to prepare the landing site on your property:

  • Ensure the landing site is of sufficient size and is clear of hazards, particularly overhead wires. This includes the arrival and departure flight paths. Brief your pilot during daylight hours on the nature and location of all operationally significant obstacles, both at the landing site and over the blocks to be worked. Obstacles to watch out for include TV and radio aerials, power poles and lines, electric fence power supply wires, and of course, buildings and tall trees. (Note that the normal operational heights for frost protection work are in the order of 50 to 150 feet above ground level depending on the nature of the temperature inversion layer).
  • The landing site should be well lit with high-wattage flood lighting. Care should be taken to ensure that light sources are angled towards the ground so as to avoid the possibility of dazzling the pilot.
  • Anyone who will be working near the landing site should be thoroughly briefed by the pilot on how to approach or move away from a running helicopter. It is critical that the pilot is able to maintain visual contact with all persons approaching or moving away from the helicopter at all times.
  • It is wise to assign one person to be responsible for safety and security at the landing site (or arrange with your helicopter operator to provide someone and/or to provide training for your staff). The landing pad needs to be controlled and kept clear of vehicles, loose objects, persons not assisting the operation and livestock.
  • Provide informative material for your staff who work around helicopters:
    Safety Around Helicopters Poster (PDF) - free - to order, email: info@caa.govt.nz
    Safety Around Helicopter DVD - see web page for price and ordering details.

Health and Safety Responsibilities

As a PCBU, you have various duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 with regard to ensuring that no one is harmed while the work is undertaken. Specific information on Duties of PCBUs can be found in the fact sheets:

Because of the nature of frost protection work, which is performed at night, attention should be paid to ensure adequate rest is actually being taken, and that the contractor is not affected by fatigue. If your pilot has worked all day before arriving at your property to hover a helicopter at low-levels for a prolonged period, it is likely he or she will need adequate rest facilities to combat fatigue. If you can, arrange a bed or a quiet area for the pilot to rest and prepare food or hot drinks on site. Specific information on Managing Fatigue and Worker Accommodation can be found in the Fact Sheets:

Late nights before beginning work, along with consumption of alcohol or drugs, either illicit or prescribed, is likely to erode a pilot’s ability to safely operate a helicopter. Therefore, attention must be given to your pilot’s activities such as whether or not he or she is engaging in social drinking or use of drugs or medication. You have a responsibility as the principal to ensure appropriate steps are taken to remedy any issues found.  For further information, see Part 135 Heli and Small Planes (incl Part 133).

For more information, see the CAA Health and Safety web site.

Further Information

If you require further information or advice about helicopter frost protection, contact the Helicopter and Agricultural Unit of the CAA, tel: +64 4 560 9400.