Becoming an Application Pilot
Becoming an application pilot requires a long-term commitment to the industry – it is not a ‘make-up hours’ or ‘just another qualification’ exercise.
Aerial application is one of the most demanding types of flying. Often conducted at very low level – a few metres above the ground when spraying – the flying must be based on professionalism and a very high degree of ‘stick and rudder’ aptitude.
The culture of the industry is very mission-focussed on doing a good – and safe – job for our clients. For this reason, a healthy personal attitude towards safety, teamwork and a sound personal knowledge of products and application technology is essential.
Aerial application includes the following operations and others:
- spraying of crops
- applying granular products
- fertilizing crops and pasture (topdressing)
- sowing seed
Aerial application companies are almost universally located in rural and regional Australia and this is a very attractive feature of the career, where the ability to sustain an aviation career goes hand-in-hand with a great lifestyle and community.
Aerial application is generally very seasonal, meaning that months of little activity may be followed by periods of intense high-tempo operations.
Aerial application can be a very rewarding career for any pilot that is up for a challenging daily work environment, has good stick and rudder skills, is committed to ongoing professional development and has a very strong commitment to safety.
Aerial application is not a career only for pilots – there are a range of other occupations that make up the industry, ranging from LAMEs (aircraft engineers) to operations managers, loader-mixers and secretarial staff.
If you would like to discuss a career in aerial application, contact the AAAA office.
There are two examinations required to progress from a Commercial Pilots Licence to an application pilot:
- CASA Application Rating Examination – AAAA provides one of the key reading manuals – the Aerial Application Pilots Manual: 3rd Edition 2011, but the exam itself is run by CASA and is only available through a CASA approved application flight training centre (see below). To find out more, including the required reading list, the full syllabus and competencies for the Application Rating, please visit the CASA Application Rating page:
- For Fixed Wing – https://www.casa.gov.au/licences-and-certificates/pilots/pilot-and-flight-crew-exams/pilot-exams/aerial-application-rating-aeroplane-exam-agra
- For Helicopters – https://www.casa.gov.au/licences-and-certificates/pilots/pilot-and-flight-crew-exams/pilot-exams/aerial-application-rating-helicopter-exam-agrh
- AAAA Spraysafe Pilots Examination – The AAAA Spraysafe pilot accreditation is recognised by all States and Territories for the issuing of a Chemical Distribution Licence (or equivalent) – which is mandatory before conducting any application operation. The AAAA Spraysafe Exam is based on the Spraysafe Manual: Edition 2: 2019. The exam can be ordered direct from AAAA (see https://aaaa.org.au/shop/), but must be externally supervised and will be express mailed only to the nominated and approved supervisor. Once the exam is successfully passed, the Spraysafe accreditation can be used to apply to each State/Territory where you will be operating for a licence. Spraysafe accreditation lasts for 3 years and must be kept current to ensure you comply with licencing conditions. This can be done by participating in the AAAA Professional Pilot Program (eg by attending AAAA approved events) or by resitting a Spraysafe exam.
Training & Licensing of Pilots
On a worldwide basis, Australia requires the highest standard of aerial application pilot qualification.
Aerial application aircraft pilots are highly trained and licensed, and can only be described as professional.
To obtain an aerial application rating a pilot must first obtain a commercial pilots license (and medical) and then attend a school approved and supervised by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for an intensive application flying and theory course.
On completion of this course, following flying and written examinations conducted by CASA, the pilot is issued with an Aerial Application Rating.
During their initial introduction to the industry (110 flying hours), the pilot operates under the supervision of a CASA-approved Chief Pilot. All application pilots are required to maintain currency and to complete an annual Operator Proficiency Check.
All States/Territories require the pilot to hold an Agricultural Chemical License or Rating. This involves a Spraysafe examination conducted by the AAAA and accepted by the regulatory authorities such as Primary Industries & Environment.
Before a pilot can conduct aerial application work, he or she must have the following:
- A CASA issued Commercial Pilots Licence
- A CASA issued Application Rating
- The required numbers of flying hours for currency
- Proficiency on type endorsement (eg aircraft class endorsement)
- A Chemical Distribution licence – the AAAA Spraysafe manual and exam is accepted by all States and Territories
- Employment by an operator (business owner) and completion of 110 flying hours of supervision.
There are a range of additional qualifications and practical experience that will make any application pilot starting out more attractive to an operator.
The key qualification and a clear signal of your commitment to the industry is to attain experience as a loader/mixer working in the industry.
Loader/mixers play a critical role in aerial application and make a significant contribution to operational efficiency and safety. They prepare/mix chemical loads for each job and are often a key company representative.
Experience as a loader/mixer will ensure you are already familiar with the industry, have a clear knowledge of chemicals and other products used, understand mixing and safety procedures, aircraft set-up, spray quality, drift management and the basics of the industry, as well as understanding typical work flows and systems, including job orders, mapping, risk assessments and working with the pilot as a team.
Loader/mixer experience in addition to pilot qualifications is highly valued by business owners when considering whether to employ a less experienced pilot starting out on their application career.
Other qualifications / experience that may also be attractive to employers include:
- attitude – team player, flexible, committed and enthusiastic.
- Spraysafe accreditation – accredited staff are a requirement for businesses to maintain their own Spraysafe accreditation
- other licences such as truck driver licence, forklift ticket, DG etc
AAAA Members Aerial Application Flying Training
There are a number of aerial application training schools in Australia. The following list are members of the AAAA and we encourage you to support your members.
Woorayl Air Services
PO Box 310
Leongatha VIC 3953
Phone: 03 5664 3288
Pay’s Pty Ltd
PO Box 158
Scone, NSW, 2337
Phone: 02 6545 1166
Field Air Group
Private Bag 25
BALLARAT VIC 3351
Phone: 03 5330 9330
PO Box SM 232
SOUTH MILDURA NSW 3501
Phone: 03 5776 4343
Sharp Aviation Services
Phone: 0427 172 502
Tasmanian Helicopters Pty Ltd
PO Box 398
Devonport TAS 7310
Phone: 03 6426 1623