NAAA has been in direct communication with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Vice President Pence and his Coronavirus Task Force explaining that the aerial application industry is an essential service in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, and as such should remain open and unencumbered from the services it provides helping food, fiber and biofuel production and forestry and public health protection. NAAA, as of March 18, was told by the FAA that there had been no discussion of shutting down airspace to Part 137 operations.
Also, as part of a larger coalition of agricultural organizations, and separately, as a member of the Pesticide Policy Coalition—stakeholders involved in pesticide use—NAAA will be joining these coalition partners in sending a joint letter to President Trump and all state governors explicitly requesting that the role the food industry, farmers and farm service providers provide to American consumers is invaluable at this time and should be deemed essential and unencumbered. Communications already sent by NAAA to the Office of the Secretary of USDA, to Vice President Pence’s Coronavirus Task Force Office and to DHS’ Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency detailed the vital role aerial applicators play in producing a healthy, affordable and abundant supply of food and fiber and requested it be deemed an essential and operating service during the COVID-19 suspension of many business activities. Specifically, NAAA communicated the following to these government agencies:
Please include the aerial application industry in that list of critical infrastructure that must continue to work during this period. Our industry treats 28% of the commercial cropland in the United States. That equates to 127 million acres of cropland that is aerially treated each year to crops used for food, fiber and biofuel. That does not include millions of acres of forestry, rangeland and pastureland that is also aerially applied with pesticides, fertilizers, and seeds. Our industry also uses aircraft to fight fires and prevent public health outbreaks carried by disease-carrying mosquitoes and other pests. After the devastating attacks on our nation by terrorists on September 11, 2001, ground-stops were immediately issued to keep all aircraft grounded. The aerial application industry was one of the first sectors of aviation allowed back up into the air space due to the important role the industry plays in food, fiber and biofuel protection, and forest and public health protection.
According to the NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE ADVISORY COUNCIL’S THE PRIORITIZATION OF CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE FOR A PANDEMIC OUTBREAK IN THE UNITED STATES WORKING GROUP FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS, dating back to 2007, aviation section employees are sector essential employees in emergency situations. This would include pilots, mechanics, ground crew and even office crew. In the aerial application industry, the large majority, if not all operations are in rural, lightly populated areas. The average number of employees per aerial application business is five, including the owner, and nearly 60 percent operate on their own private airport, not public airports so they are isolated from the general population. In addition, our association has been messaging our industry of the CDC steps to follow to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
… Again, due the emergency nature of food and fiber being readily available as some consumers are hoarding supplies affecting adequate supplies for food and fiber for all, aerial applicators and their critical need must remain open for business and free to aviate to perform their service for farmers, foresters and the public health industry. Please place them specifically on the essential critical infrastructure list of workers.
NAAA will continue to communicate with all federal and state government officials and agencies necessary to ensure aerial application operations are not disrupted, and will keep the membership aware of this situation and any new developments affecting the industry related to COVID-19.