Pilot training has become another revenue stream for prairie aerial applicators as the industry undergoes change
Four Indonesian pilots have passed the first phase of training in Saskatchewan as they prepare to become licensed aerial applicators.
The young pilots started their training in April with Miccar Aerial of Yorkton, Sask.
Indonesia’s PT Elang Nusantara Air chose Miccar to train the pilots for its aerial fertilization program.
All four Indonesians arrived with commercial pilot training and proficiency speaking English.
Instructor Devan Yaholnitsky said Miccar has trained more than 50 pilots since it began operating in 1996, including New Zealand, Spain, Columbia, France, Ivory Coast and Great Britain as well as Canada.
He said agricultural airplanes are basically the same around the world. The two manufacturers are Air Tractor and Thrush.
The students began the 35 hour training process using the small two-seater Bellanca Citabria and then moved to a Piper Pawnee and eventually a Thrush 510P. This turbine-powered aircraft is the same make they will be using in Indonesia.
Yahonlnitsky said the turbine significantly reduces the risk of engine failure compared to a piston engine.
“But it’s still a possibility, so we talked about it a lot while they’ve been here and what to do if that happens,” he said.
“Even if there’s a crop in the field (in Saskatchewan), the outcome is not going to be catastrophic. You can even take a road. We’ve got a road every mile here.”
However, Indonesia is a country with millions of acres of jungle, where the pilots will be spreading fertilizer on palm plantations to help the trees grow. Palm trees are harvested for their fruit and oil, which are used in the cosmetic industry.
“The type of flying that they’re doing is similar to what we do here with the exception of they’re applying dry fertilizer where typically here in Canada we’re spraying liquid pesticides, whether it’s to control weeds, bugs or fungus,” he said.
Yahonlnitsky said the dry fertilizer is applied at 100 to 150 pounds per acre. Planes hold 3,500 pounds per load.
Pilot Reza Rachmat said he thought his training went well, but all students found it challenging to adjust from their commercial aircraft to agricultural applicators.
“The toughest thing was as a commercial pilot, we flew with the nose wheel, whereas aerial applicators are a tail wing plane,” he said.
“It was very challenging for us to figure out how to take off and land.”
Rachmat said the pilots will have about six months more training before qualifying in Indonesia, but in a country that imports most of its pilots, they will be among a handful of homegrown aerial applicators.
Miccar Aerial is one of two companies in Canada that do agricultural pilot training, which is another revenue stream it uses to keep airborne in an evolving industry.
Yaholnitsky said larger farms in Western Canada have started buying their own aircraft.
“We saw that as a change in how the industry used to be where you phoned the operator and they come spray the field. The farms have grown to the size now that farmers can’t wait for the aircraft. They need their own and hire a pilot to spray the farm,” he said.
“We are seeing that happening and thought, ‘how do we stay in the industry and be profitable and give something back to the industry.’ That’s when we looked at training.”