Aerial firefighting pilots are characteristically passionate go-getters. As soon as a partner (FPA, municipality, large landowner) requests aerial assistance, these men and women take flight. They thrive on hitting their targets, offering assistance to ground crew and working as a team to beat the blaze – saving lives, properties and the environment. Unfortunately, there are certain unsafe conditions during which aerial firefighting cannot take place.
Aerial firefighting is very dependent on manageable weather conditions and adequate visibility.
WEATHER: The weather conditions need to be such that the Pilot in Command (PIC) can: navigate the aircraft using landmarks, avoid collisions with obstacles such as power lines, towers, tall trees, buildings, mountains etc. and identify targets or reference points.
The determination of flight or no flight due to weather conditions rests solely on the PIC.
VISIBILITY: According to South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) regulations, aerial firefighting is limited to Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This basically means the pilot needs to be able to see where the aircraft is going.
Pilots flying under VFR do not rely on instruments to fly the aircraft. Thus, low hanging clouds or smoke may restrict a firefighting pilot from: taking off, flying to the fire (these aircraft operate relatively low to the ground which means that there are quite a few obstacles that can cause an inflight collision) or dropping water loads if the fireline is not clearly visible (they need to see the target in order to water bomb it).
The safety of our WOF Aviation team is very important. These heroes can’t save others if they themselves are “not safe”.