“Upon the Performance of Each Rests the Fate of All.” If you’ve ever attended the PAASS Program at a state convention, then you have heard those words uttered more than once. NAAA and its sister organization NAAREF take that motto seriously and ag pilots should too, particularly now that the summer flying season is in full swing and all eyes are upon us. With that in mind, here is a daily checklist to follow to ensure your season is safe and productive.
Guard Against Fatigue: Increased activity leads to longer flying days and less time off for rest. Many times pilot error accidents are the result of poor decision-making that can be traced directly to the effects of fatigue. Fatigue is not always easy to recognize, but when tasks normally completed with ease require extra concentration, chances are the effects of fatigue are starting to seep in. It is a known fact a person is a very poor judge of his or her own physical or mental condition.
Flying while fatigued can be fatal! Last month NAAA mailed a new brochure with practical advice on recognizing and addressing fatigue to all members and non-member operators and pilots with known addresses. “Combatting Fatigue in Ag Aviation” explains how fatigue can compromise aerial application operations and offers suggestions on ways to identify and mitigate fatigue. To view the brochure online, look for it on the homepage of AgAviation.org or enter “combatting fatigue” in the search box. The 2015-2016 PAASS aviation safety educational curriculum also focused on the subject of fatigue, as have numerous NAAA magazine articles, including the cover story series in the May/June 2015 issue of Agricultural Aviation.
Drink Plenty of Water: Dehydration sets in quickly when the heat index rises and can lead to more severe heat-related illnesses. Keep yourself and your crew hydrated by providing plenty of fresh water to replace what gets lost during the day through perspiration, urination and respiration. Early symptoms of mild dehydration are headaches, chronic pains in joints and muscles, lower back pain and constipation. Urine with a strong odor along with a yellow or amber color indicates the need for more water. Thirst is the most obvious sign, but people typically don’t realize they are thirsty until well after the shortage of water occurs. Rehydrating is another reason to take frequent breaks.
Establish Personal Minimums: NAAA encourages each pilot to establish personal minimums and make them hard and fast rules to live by. In your desire to get the job completed quickly and still do a good job for your customer, it can be very easy to justify an action “just this one time.” Spur-of-the-moment decisions can bite you. Establish your own personal minimums after giving consideration to all conceivable hazards and evaluating mitigation measures for those hazards. Once established, the safety bar should not be lowered just because you were able to get away with something once.
Watch Out for Obstructions: Obstructions have always been hazardous to low-level pilots’ health, but the number of telecommunications towers, GPS differential signal towers, meteorological evaluation towers, wind turbines and other obstructions erected in agricultural regions has increased significantly over the past several years. Over the last 10 years, 27 percent of all ag aircraft accidents have been the result of collisions with obstructions such as wires, trees, towers and terrain. Forty-five percent of these collisions have been with wires and their related structures.
NAAREF feels it is imperative to remind pilots of these potentially deadly hazards and present some suggestions for coping with these in-flight dangers. With this goal in mind, the foundation produced an obstruction awareness video titled “Wires and Obstructions.” It discusses obstructions such as wires, trees and towers that are a hazard to pilots operating in the low-level airspace on a daily basis. The video also includes a segment on the increasing concern with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are difficult to spot and may be operating in the same airspace with ag aircraft.
“Wires and Obstructions” is the first in the series of videos that will be available for ag pilots to watch on NAAA’s website. NAAA and NAAREF encourage pilots to view and review the videos as often as necessary to keep the lessons in mind. Watch it at AgAviation.org/safetyeducationvideos. The “Wires and Obstructions” video can also be found by going to AgAviation.org; then hover over the “Media” tab and select “Safety & Education Videos” from the dropdown menu.
Ferry Above 500 AGL: When ferrying, remember the PAASS safety phrase “Ferry Above Five and Stay Alive” to keep yourself above power lines, unmarked towers and other ag aircraft conducting spray operations. Another important consideration in many parts of the country is ferrying at or above 500 feet is required by FAA regulations. Flying at a higher altitude has the additional advantage of allowing more reaction time in the case of an aircraft or engine malfunction.
Bee Careful: Regardless of the cause, the decline of honeybees over the last several years has everyone from beekeepers to fruit and vegetable growers to the U.S. EPA feeling the sting of the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. This has major implications for agriculture since approximately one-third of all crops in the United States require insect pollination. As such, operators and pilots need to be attuned to pollinator concerns and mindful of protecting bees while they work. Remember to follow state rules on locating and notifying beekeepers of intended chemical applications. Additional stewardship measures include reading and following label directions and to determine whether bees are foraging.
In 2013, the EPA released a new label for neonictinoid pesticides. The labels include a bee advisory box warning of potential harm to pollinators, and accompany products containing the insecticides imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. For crops under contracted pollination services, the EPA labels prohibit applications when bees are foraging and plants are flowering. If an application needs to be made when managed bees are at the treatment site, the commercial beekeeper must be given 48 hours to remove or otherwise protect the bees prior to spraying.
For commercially grown crops not under contract for pollination services but attractive to bees and other pollinators, the labels also prohibit applications when bees are foraging and while plants are flowering. But the EPA has included several exceptions that would allow applications at night and when temperatures are below 55°F (13°C). In addition, applications would also be permitted if approved by state officials and if there is an imminent threat of a significant crop loss.
Check Temporary Flight Restrictions: As the presidential campaign kicks into high gear, so too will the number of VIP Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). Checking TFRs before you fly is always important, but you should be even more vigilant about checking VIP TFRs until the elections are over. The FAA recommends obtaining TFR NOTAMs from your local Flight Service Station (FSS). For the latest information, call your local FSS at 1-800-WX-BRIEF. Make sure you have proof that you made the effort to comply as verified by briefing records at FSS or by DUATS log in.
Fly Safe! These are but a few of the safety reminders NAAREF sends to operators and pilots through ongoing Fly Safe alerts. Fly Safe messages are shared with NAAA members and non-members—specifically, all operators and pilots with a valid email address on file with NAAA. A fax option is also available. These important safety alerts are sent every other Monday in April, May, June and August and every Monday in July, which historically has been the peak month for ag accidents. Additional safety reminders are issued whenever aviation activity warrants them. If you are a Part 137 operator or ag pilot who has not been getting Fly Safe, please contact NAAA’s Ken Degg at (202) 546-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the recipient list.
Although this advice is free, the resources to produce it is not. Funding for NAAREF services and programs, such as PAASS, the Fly Safe campaign and Operation S.A.F.E., comes from NAAA and other donors willing to invest in the future of agricultural aviation. We invite you to join the cause of preserving and protecting the aerial application industry, your livelihood and your life by joining NAAA if you aren’t a member already. To join, call (202) 546-5722 or visit or visit AgAviation.org/membership to join online.