In 45 years of agricultural piloting, Gore pilot Brian Casey is most proud of his accident-free record.
The Phoenix Aviation chief pilot has clocked up nearly 30,000 hours in the air and has spread about 400,000 tonnes of fertiliser. While enjoying the independence of flying, Casey has been a role model to company employees and the industry generally for his approach to safe flying.
He was awarded for his contribution to the development of the aerial top dressing industry in New Zealand at the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association conference in Hamilton in July.
Growing up on a farm in the Mokoreta Valley, Casey’s father always expected his son to follow in his footsteps and become a farmer, but the farm next door used an agricultural plane for topdressing and the young boy was mesmerised.
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“I used to sit there and watch those airplanes coming and going,” Casey said.
He had his first flying lesson in 1967 and from there he was hooked. He worked on a farm to pay for a private pilot license and commercial pilot licence in 1972, and did his training with the Southern District Aero Club in Gore.
In 1972 he began his long career with Phoenix Aviation. He went to do his agriculture training at the Derek Malcolm Agricultural Training School in Whanganui, then returned to Gore and started working as a topdressing pilot on the Landcorp blocks at Te Anau.
“This was the training ground for most of the local ag companies in those days,” he said.
Casey has mainly flown the same Fletcher aircraft since 1979. He has worked throughout Southland, South Otago and Central Otago applying fertiliser.
In the early years he did a lot of spraying of weeds with fungicides, insecticides and liquid fertiliser.
Casey has a different view out of his office every day, and no two days are the same. He said he loved the independence flying gave him.
“When you are in the plane you are your own boss.”
Casey said the best days to fly were cool, windless days because hot summer days made for a bumpy ride.
“You really get thumped around some days, it’s really like being on the roughest road.”
While Casey has been accident-free throughout his career, there have been a few scary moments. He has had five engine failures, three in the air and two on the ground, each time managing to manoeuvre his way safely.
Early on his his pilot career many other pilots did not share his accident-free record. It was a dangerous career to be in back then.
“Back in the 1970s they said if you had been in the industry for 20 years you should statistically be dead.”
Since then planes and pilot training had improved a lot, improving the safety record, he said.
There have been many advances in the industry in Casey’s time including turbo prop engines, cell phones and portable weather stations. However, the biggest advancement in the industry has been GPS technology.
Before there was GPS to show where to apply fertiliser, Casey and other pilots used markers on the ground.
“I still prefer the old way.”
Newer pilots would probably be lost without the GPS. Casey said sometimes he would turn it off and do it the old way.
While it’s a career that rules his life, abiding by the weather, and sometimes missing out on long-planned events to work, Casey said he loved the job.
“It’s been a lot of fun, I’ve met some really good people.”