The roles of aviation in supporting mining – by Keith Campbell ( – August 21, 2015)

JOHANNESBURG ( – Mining depends on infrastructure – so much so that mining companies sometimes have to build and operate their own railways, ports and power stations in parts of the world in which such essentials are nonexistent or woefully inadequate. And those parts of the world tend to be rather isolated or remote. Which brings another form of infrastructure into play, one rarely thought of in relation to mining projects – aviation.

Aviation plays a key role in supporting mining around the world, and not just in areas lacking roads and railways. In places with good terrestrial infrastructure, but long distances, like South Africa, aviation is also most helpful to miners. There are many missions executed by aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary wing and now unmanned as well as manned, in support of the mining industry.

These include aerial surveying, aerial observation, the transport of staff to and from operations in remote or distant locations, the transport of key equipment to these mines and even the transport of precious metals and stones from the mines where they have been extracted to secure locations in major centres.


Aircraft can be used to gather a wide range of survey data using a wide variety of instruments. These include aerial cameras, light detection and ranging, or lidar, which acts like radar but uses a laser instead of a radar transmitter, infrared, ultraviolet and gamma-ray sensors and magnetic and gravity sensors. Lidar, for example, can be used for topographical surveys, volumetric calculations of open pits, stockpiles and tailings, detection of ground deformations and so on.

Aeromagnetic and gravity surveys gather geophysical data and are often used in conjunction, especially in oil and gas surveys. Once regarded as rough approximations, the quality of aeromagnetic and gravity survey data has improved substantially over the past 30 years.

Aerial surveying is almost always carried out by specialist companies using specialised equipment, which is often permanently mounted on the aircraft and may require modifications to the airframes concerned.

A number of such companies are operating in South Africa, some being local enterprises and others local or regional arms of global groups. Examples include (but are not restricted to) African Consulting Surveyors, CGG, CK Aerial Surveys, Spectrem and WGS Aerial Surveys.

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