The Pastoralists’ Association of West Darling (PAWD), local landowners, and muster pilots are seeking flight schedules for low-flying surveying aircraft amid escalating concerns over potential mid-air collisions.
Xcalibur Multiphysics, contracted by the NSW government, is carrying out low-flying airborne surveys for the NSW Gravity Model. Muster pilots and graziers across the region are calling for improved communication from surveying companies or the pilots they contract.
PAWD raised an alert via their Facebook page about impending surveys across the Far West’s skies. They criticised the government, Xcalibur, and other surveying companies for their insufficient communication with property owners about low-flying activities and flight schedules.
Veteran pilot Paul Martin expressed concerns about the potential for catastrophic encounters with other aircraft while flying under 500 feet. He underlined the shortcomings of the existing NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) platform, which is inaccessible to most pilots in the region. In communication with Xcalibur’s head, Peter Johnson, Martin stressed the importance of effective communication and criticised the lack of efforts to disseminate flight schedule information.
“In my opinion, everyone has a right to know who the hell is going to be up in the air at our levels at any given time,” he added. “And they can’t just use the excuse that it’s too hard to communicate the flight schedule because they’ll have a lot of trouble explaining that to the people at the funeral, right?”
PAWD President Terry Smith raised serious concerns about the safety of pilots, ground teams, and livestock during aerial mustering. Smith pointed out the absence of radio contact from low-flying surveying aircraft and the lack of foreknowledge about their flight schedules even in their public notification in the Barrier Truth.
“The notification in the Barrier Truth was very vague, and when I called, the number in the ad was outdated, and when put through to the new number, a lovely woman answered but she didn’t know what I was talking about and couldn’t help me at all,” he said.
A NSW Department of Customer Service (DCS) spokesperson defended the surveying processes, stating that Xcalibur operates above 500 feet and does not tow sensor equipment. They highlighted the efforts made to engage with stakeholders, including local councils, aviation providers, and regional communities, but did not detail their communication methods with landowners.
Despite the DCS’s statements, Smith suggested that other companies’ survey aircraft are often seen flying below the stated 492 feet level, with surveying equipment extending well into the 500-foot zone. Smith stressed that the matter is not only a risk to human lives but also an animal welfare issue.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the final authority on air safety matters, reiterated that operators are required to perform risk assessments for each operation under their regulations. They recommended contacting the organisation involved to determine the nature of the work and any consultation involved.
Further queries to DCS and CASA were inconclusive, with both entities avoiding specifics on communication methods and operator best practices. They instead referred to their regulations and risk analysis measures.
More information on airborne surveying for the NSW Gravity Model, general operating and flight regulations, and air operator and aerial work certificate holders can be found on the official websites of the NSW Spatial Services and CASA.
“The need for a more effective, accessible platform for sharing low-flying non-commercial flight schedules has never been more critical,” said Mr Smith
As concern escalates among local landowners and pilots, the demand for clear and open communication about low-flying activities remains a pressing issue in the Far West region.