How safe are airborne geophysical surveys (plane/helicopter)??

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I'm interested in becoming an airborne survey operator in a company
that performs geophysical surveys. This company operates both planes
and helicopters and the job consists of operating geophysical
instruments on board during survey flights. This activity requires
many low-levels flights with a large EM transmitter/receiver hanging
below the aircraft to record the electromagnetic properties of the Earth.

Does anyone know how safe this activity is? I'm quite concerned
because of the low-level flying and because it's an activity that
requires to be in an aircraft very often with probably lots of take
off/landing. Anyone has any experience in this area?


-- Ron Demsey, May 16, 2007


You're probably looking at a risk of death of roughly 1 in 100,000 hours of flying if they are using piston singles and perhaps 1 in 300,000 hours if they are using more experienced pilots and either turbines or beautifully maintained piston twins.

-- Philip Greenspun, May 20, 2007

I believe the helicopter risk is much higher; somewhere I read 16 per 100,000 hours. But I could be wrong.

-- Michael James, May 27, 2007

Disregard previous; I checked again and couldn't find this. Elsewhere I read 1.6 per 100,000 hours.

-- Michael James, May 27, 2007

I spent a some time in exploration geology where helicopeters are used like pick up trucks. Anyone with time in the industry knows a lot of people killed in copter crashes. Sad but true. The standard flight safety numbers don't apply here. The flying is done at low altitiudes under commercial pressures. Take off and landing are always the most dangerous phases of flight. Having said that a lot depends on the operators. Some are safe and some are not. Ask the company you are talking to what their record is compared to the industry. Get the Workmens comp rating for the industry and the company. Do they operate the planes or sub contract for them. If so what beside price do they use to evalaute the bidders?

Good luck Dennis

-- Dennis O'Meara, June 13, 2007

I did radiometric and magnetometer surveys from a Hughes 500 back in the late '70s with a VERY heavy instrumentation package plus a magetometer "bomb" on a 100' tether at 300ft "average" terrain clearance. We were frequently "pushing the envelope", but no close calls in the year I was with the outfit. (No other mishaps before or since that I heard about either.)

Was it somewhat risky? Yes, but I was probably at more risk driving down I-25 going to and from the office.

I would certainly do it again and have no regrets at all! Had a great time in nearly 20 years in various aspects of airborne, surface and borehole geophysics.

Go for it and Good Luck!!


-- Rip Taylor, June 23, 2007

I work in this industry. I am also looking at getting my pilots liscence. There is a risk as well as we are all aware of with low level but the geophysical companies give us the operators the control over with regards to our personal safety. If we fly with a pilot and we feel uncomfortable in his skill with our equipment attached then we have the power to have another pilot with more experience brought in. The pilot could be great at flying but may not have enough experience at flying with our equipment attached. It's nothing against the pilot it's just our safety as an individual we have to look out for. If you are in a car on the freeway with a 16yr old who has never driven on the freeway or with a 30yr old that uses it daily, you can judge your safety in comparison. There is always added risk when towing anything just like towing a trailer with your car. There is also added risk with the speed and altitude just as there is with road sped and corners. Together, yes they add more risk but then people do it on the roadways all the time, we have all sped down the orad and took a cornr faster than the posted safe speed limit. The biggest thing is how you feel for your own safety and to bring your concerns forward, companies are or should be very proactive when it comes to these concerns. I know our company wants input and in return we get very capable and safety minded pilots. Industry pushes for more hours, longer flights but no on argues with weather or safety delays. It's a good industry, we all know people that have died in car accidents just as we know of others in helicopter accidents. You can't sit in your room all day and be afraid of what if's. Keep an eye open and safety first and you'll make some very good money and travel the world on someone else's dime doing it. Have fun. Tom

-- Tom Nolan, July 20, 2007

I've never flown as an airborne geophysical survey fixed wing pilot although I have few thousand hours on the DHC 6-300 most of which are in the Sahara transporting oil company employees from on place to the other. I wonder how difficult would it be working as an airborne geophysical survey operations pilot. Also, what is the pay for this kind of operation?

-- Rahman Sherif, July 8, 2014