Agricultural Aviation


The agricultural and rural aviation industry (the “industry”) provides services to primary production activities and associated rural activities through applying agrichemicals, fertilisers and Vertebrate Toxic Agents (VTAs)1 from the air from both fixed wing aircraft (aeroplanes) and helicopters. The aerial application of these substances has the potential to cause adverse environmental effects if not adequately managed. The potential adverse effects primarily relate to the discharge of these substances but can also relate to land-based issues such as storage, reverse sensitivity and the generation of noise.

The industry is subject to a number of legislative requirements. The focus of this guidance note is to highlight the key resource management issues under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) associated with the industry and how these must be considered by councils in relation to other relevant legislation, particularly the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act).

Under the RMA, regional councils and territorial authorities both have roles and responsibilities for managing the effects of the industry. Regional councils are primarily responsible for managing the discharges associated with the industry, whereas territorial authorities are primarily responsible for the management of land-based amenity issues such as noise. Most industry operators work in a number of different regions so have to comply with a range of plan provisions and controls which can increase the complexity of their operations if plans are not well aligned and managed.

This guidance note provides a background to the industry, outlines relevant industry best practice standards, and provides guidance on how industry operations can be managed through regional or district plans to address actual and potential adverse effects. This note outlines the nature and type of discharges associated with the industry and recommends a risk assessment/management approach to manage the actual and potential effects of these discharges based on appropriate performance standards. It also provides guidance on managing adverse effects and amenity issues associated with the land-based components of the industry’s operations.  

Purpose of the guidance note

This guidance note sets out the key resource management issues associated with the industry and methods to manage the associated potential adverse effects. The purpose of this guidance note is to:

  • Raise the knowledge and understanding of the industry and the nature of its operations among RMA practitioners.
  • Outline relevant legislation that applies to the industry in order to raise awareness amongst RMA practitioners as to the scope of controls in regional and district plans.
  • Outline relevant industry best practice and Codes of Practice and how these can be used to help manage adverse effects.
  • Provide an overview of the matters that councils could consider when developing plan provisions to manage adverse effects and enable the industry to operate in a sustainable manner.

The guidance note is intended to help councils develop plan provisions and resource consent conditions that will manage potential adverse effects on the environment and deliver positive outcomes from both a council and industry perspective. It promotes a risk based approach to manage discharges associated with the industry’s operations, coupled with the ability to demonstrate (verify) if required, how any environmental risks will be, or were, managed. Additional Technical Information relating to the Agricultural Aviation Industryis provided on the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) website to support this risk management approach and to provide further information on industry best practice.

Scope and structure of the guidance note

The guidance note focusses on managing the environmental effects associated with the aerial application of the three main products associated with the industry: fertiliser, agrichemicals and VTAs.

It outlines the nature of these discharges, relevant risk factors and exposure pathways that may lead to adverse effects. It then sets out options to manage the effects of these discharges.

Related land use matters that are generic to the application of all three groups of substances and aircraft are also addressed in this guidance note, including aircraft noise, storage and reverse sensitivity. Fertilisers, agrichemicals and VTAs may also be applied by ground based methods but these methods are not addressed in this guidance note as the potential effects of ground application and associated management tools are different to aerial applications.

Note: this guidance note does not promote or provide options for managing VTAs in district and regional plans. Rather, councils are encouraged to pursue this matter under the HSNO Act pursuant to the findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The GN sections outline the nature and potential effects of the aerial application of these substances. They also identify the relevant risk factors and exposure pathways and provide guidance on managing the effects using a risk management approach.

There is much technical information and terminology associated with the industry which has the potential to cause confusion. It can also create issues for the industry where inappropriate terminology is used in plan provisions.

In this document a glossary is provided to clarify key terminology used.

Links to the NZAAA website are provided to support this guidance note, particularly in terms of relevant legislation and Technical Information relating to the Agricultural Aviation Industry. This technical information also includes a diagram in Appendix 3 which illustrates the relationship between the various terms.

Development of the Guidance Note

This guidance note was initiated in 2011 by NZAAA. NZAAA is an industry body which represents approximately 72% of New Zealand’s pilots, operators and aerial organisations that hold Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) agricultural aviation certificates, and is a division within the Aviation Industry of New Zealand (AIA). Funding for a project entitled “Environmental Best Practice in Agricultural and associated Rural Aviation” was obtained from the Sustainable Farming Fund (project # 11/076) and stakeholder organisations to develop this guidance note.

The development process involved regional meetings with councils, operators and stakeholders where key issues and management options were identified. Workshops were also held with pilots and operators at NZAAA conferences. Feedback on draft material was sought from the stakeholder group, which included industry, councils, and related industries such as horticulture, agriculture and environmental organisations. This guidance note has subsequently been considered and peer reviewed by planning practitioners, industry representatives, Ministry for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Authority, Ministry for Primary Industries, the Department of Conservation, regional councils and WorkSafe New Zealand.


Footnote: VTAs are commonly referred to as bait. This guidance note provides information on the management of the VTA that is applied aerially most often - 1080 applied as cereal bait or carrot bait. This guidance note does not address applications of other VTAs (including pindone pellets) or non-aerial applications of VTAs.