Safety Means Success - Rotortech 2018

Last week we attended Rotortech on the Sunshine Coast. The key theme of the event was Safety Means Success. We were thrilled to hear that they were speaking our language. Here’s a rundown of some of the key topics that were covered over the week.


Drones are advancing so quickly because they’re so accessible, which concurrently attributes to their advancement, and the necessity to withhold their development and use. This may seem contradictory, but as more people utilise drones, and develop more clever uses for them, there becomes a growing number of people who’re unaware of how to use them safely.

As Stephen Angus says, “issues arise when people treat them like a toy — professional pilots and operators have had safety and regulation ingrained into their psyche, and commercial and professional operators don’t usually pose a risk.”

However, the panel all agreed that drones are a legitimate operation and that the industry needs them to be able to their business.

Drones have an important role to play in many emergency situations, including fire spotting, however, they just need to work harmoniously with those who’re in the sky.

If CASA were to implement stronger rules and regulations around their use, we could see a disruption to new initiatives and developments in this space. The question is, how do we allow for growth while keeping people safe?

Self-regulation and education

Self-regulation seems to be the best way forward. As Richard Alder of NAFC says, “people might respect drone use if they’re better educated.”

Awareness through social media, in particular, will be an important way to propagate these messages. It’s about teaching people to respect the rules and treat them as you would any other aircraft.

“Existing rules should apply to drones. We need to integrate drones with the same regulations, the same tracking and communication systems too,” says Richard Alder.

As Stephen Angus says, “we need to face drones, not stop it. It’s naive to think we can just inhibit their use. We need to embrace them, and find a solution together.”

Night bombing Panel

Captain Richard Butterworth, Head of Training Kestrel Aviation
Mr Wayne Rigg, Operational Lead Night Fire Bombing, Emergency Management Victoria (EMV)
Mr Richard Alder, General Manager, National Aerial Firefighting Centre
Mr Robert Walker, Executive Manager Stakeholder, Engagement Division, CASA
Mr Ray Cronin, Vice-President, AHIA and owner of Kestrel Aviation. 

The Risks

Aerial firefighting is undoubtedly risky. And when flying below 100 ft, where most of their time is spent when fighting a fire, these risks are further heightened. Then we have flying in extremely hot conditions, under immense load and extended periods at gross max, and stress and fatigue. The industry has got to understand and mitigate these risks.

To better mitigate risks, the industry needs to have continual awareness and training.

For many pilots, bombing can feel like “just another day in the office.” This is where issues can arise.

“We need to continuously remind people what risks are. Many in it for a long time, and can get comfortable with doing this which can lead to accidents. Risks don’t change although the attitude might,” says Ray Cronin.

Because night bombing has so many dynamic risks, and it can change in an instant, pilots need to go in armed and understand that.

“Be alert and watch all the time,” says Ray.

Working together, better

“All emergencies, all communities approach.”

We need to send a message that airborne firefighting, and using aircraft in emergency situations, is a part of a bigger picture. This includes cooperation between organisations, businesses and the community, to thus find better solutions and see better outcomes.

This is especially pertinent in Australia and the USA, where issues tend to be looked at state by state.

As Richard Alder says, “we need to see National standards, so we can move and interoperate more effectively between states. This will create consistency.”
NAFC are extremely excited with the work and study they’ve been doing into night bombing, and although they’re fully aware of the risks, they’re excited about having this new capability on hand to help better our communities.

Rob Walker also stressed the need for a communal approach.

“Going forward, there needs to be a national approach. Bushfires are everywhere. In the lead up to 18/19 fire season, we need to ensure the capability is there to act swiftly.”

As Wayne Rigg reminded the crowd, “this is new for Aus, but not new the world. Our goal is to protect communities and firefighters.”

Ray Cronin finished the panel discussion reminding everyone that although safety always comes first, development comes from pushing the boundaries.

“If we don’t try stuff that is never a little on the edge, we will never go forward.” 

Recommended Articles