Sensitive Areas

IN MY OPINION, this little dissertation is a mild case of venting for me, as well as other ag pilots who have expressed similar feelings. It is also mildly sarcastic. For AgAir Update readers, I have “cleaned” it up considerably (use your imagination).

Over the years that I have been in the business of aerial application, crop dusting to those of you who prefer the outdated term (hair dressers are cosmetologist, airline stewardesses are flight attendants, janitors are sanitary engineers, etc., but TV-advertising lawyers are still PEPACS (posterior exit point of the alimentary canal). I have encountered many areas known as “sensitive areas”, such as hospitals and schools, where we need to spray a nearby field only during certain times of the day, or when the wind is from a particular direction, or only from a designated direction so as not to over fly a structure. Other sensitive areas may be due to a child care center or for noise abatement of an old age home, etc. Ag pilots are only too happy to make every attempt to comply with a reasonable, legitimate request regarding a sensitive area. There was one occasion where an elderly lady lived with her daughter in the country and the daughter requested that we avoid over flying over the house. Of course, I was only too happy to comply.

There are other requests, more like belligerent demands and even threats, for an ag pilot to avoid a particular area. Demands that are totally unreasonable; some to the point where trying to work a field is almost impossible, or creates an extreme danger to the pilot, such as high-G pull-ups and/or tight turns very close to the ground. Sometimes the pilot will have no alternative, but decline to fly the field, thereby losing the money he would have made. Often times, as I have experienced through the years, the person lives in a new, very large and expensive home in a new exclusive subdivision located in the middle of a cotton field. Here is a new take on an old cliché, “which came first the complainer or the cotton?” The complainer does not always live in an exclusive neighborhood. On rare occasions, he or she may live in a lower income area, “the projects,” at the edge of the city limits, or a junky old house trailer and is simply stirring up trouble. There is never trouble from a farmer’s family.

Regarding the troublemakers, where in the heck do these people get off thinking they can move out to the country where cotton, soybeans, rice, sugar cane, wheat, corn, etc., have been farmed for generations, which have been treated by airplanes for maybe 70 years, and think they have the right to interrupt a legitimate, established farming practice? I suspect these are the same kind of people who follow a newly constructed international airport fifteen miles out of the city limits to build a new home and then force noise abatement procedures on the departing aircraft.

A few years ago, I had a woman raise all kinds of cane with my flying near her house, which bordered a cotton field. She called the sheriff who explained to her that I was within the law and only trying to make a living. The sheriff suggested that I should call her when I plan to spray the adjacent cotton field. Maybe she could leave the house for a few minutes. But nooooooo. Her complaint was that she was afraid I would “fall on her house.” As I see it, the statement implies, it’s OK to “fall” on somebody else’s house or out in the field, just don’t “fall” on her house. If I, or any ag pilot, were to “fall” due to an engine failure, etc., we most likely would not hit a house.

Speaking for myself and probably most other ag pilots, we operate within the Federal Aviation Regulations, especially Part 137 which governs agricultural aviation operations. What is really irritating, more often than not, the complainer does not call the ag pilot and simply, politely request that we not fly over her house, which we would be happy to oblige, instead, she calls the sheriff or worse, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In the latter case, the FAA is obligated to contact us and do an initial investigation. The truth is, we really do not relish even friendly visits from the FAA, especially when we are busy. Some of the FAA personnel are excellent folks, while some are real pepacs and love to find something about which to gig us. I had an FAA man tell me one time, in a humorous vein, the FAA motto is, “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.” I responded with a weak chuckle.

Fact of the matter is, we are highly skilled, very competent and very conscientious pilots. Our services are critical to the production of food and fiber. Without the services of ag pilots, the price of food and clothing would skyrocket. We do not fly World War II surplus airplanes with worn-out engines anymore, which carried a full load of only 100 gallons. The ag planes of today cost in excess of a half million dollars and carry 400 to 800 gallons. We are guided by $20,000 GPS systems, have electronic flow control devices, air-conditioned cockpits and turbine engines that are very reliable, very quiet and very expensive. The cost of insurance alone for one turbine airplane for one year would have bought three or four WW II surplus “crop dusting” airplanes when this industry was in its infancy. We are professionals with skills every bit as valuable as any other professional, e.g. attorneys, CPAs, etc. Next time you get a chance, tell someone this!

We, as ag aviators, must be able to be flexible and maintain a level keel under stress. Some people, like the complainers in this commentary, certainly add stress to our profession. And so…IN MY OPINION, we should: 1. Contact the farmer for whom we are flying, 2. Visit the complainer before the application to try to explain your situation, 3. Write a venting essay like I have here and consider the matter resolved. Be safe, have fun and make money,


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