Today, our industry is fortunate enough to have sophisticated GPS units that can track ag-aircraft in real time using the Internet. However, not all ag-aircraft have upgraded to this very valuable function. There was a time when not all ag-aircraft had a GPS unit, but that’s not true today. I believe it to be reasonable to expect the time will come when all ag-aircraft can be tracked in real time, even with a smartphone.
Actually, that prediction could be true today, if the operator so desired. For the iPhone there’s an app called “Find My Friends”. It is a free app that can be downloaded from the app store. I use it all the time, but not to locate ag-aircraft, but for family use.
The operator, ground crew, office personnel, or anyone that needs to know where a particular ag-plane is operating can install this app on their smartphone. Another smartphone, typically the pilot’s, can be in the aircraft. The ground based phone “requests” the aircraft based phone to allow it to follow and the aircraft based phone accepts. Now, as easy as opening and viewing the app, the ground based phone can see in real time exactly where the ag-aircraft is located, view it making the application or ferrying to or from the field.
It is possible in some areas where there is a limitation of cell service, either not enough coverage or the aircraft could be too high, that this type of tracking will not work. However, usually it will.
I know several operators that use the Find My Friends app. We all know there are times when an aircraft has been out a little too long, maybe the ferry distance was longer than usual or the fields smaller, that we start to become concerned for the safety of the flight.
I’m sure it would be comforting to the operator, or ground personnel, to be able at a moment’s notice, open the app and see the location of the aircraft. Should something unfortunate happen, with the satellite imagery used in this app it would be easy to find the last location of the aircraft.
So, how does the pilot feel about being tracked by others at any time? Well, it is a simple matter for him to turn off the function when not flying. However, now somebody has to remember to turn it back on before a flight. I suppose that would be a good excuse to use a checklist.
Now that I have dropped the “P-word”, as in Pilot, it may be an opportunity to touch on a concern a pilot reader emailed me. The pilot wanted to know how could he bring up a maintenance issue without getting fired over it.
To quote the email: “What is the best way for a hired pilot to voice his concerns about an operator cutting corners on aircraft maintenance without getting fired?”
In the ag-aviation world, the term ‘maintenance’ takes on a different meaning than when used in general aviation. Sometimes, methods are adopted to keep an ag-aircraft in the air that would not be acceptable elsewhere. That’s not to say an operator should violate FAA regulations.
My suggestion to the pilot is to use his personal judgement. Technically, he is responsible for the airworthiness of the aircraft he is flying. That could be taken to the extreme. If it was me, I would act based on my perceived safety and how I felt the FAA would react towards me. I believe tolerance has to play into the decision. The end result, ‘let your conscience be your guide’. Getting fired is better than getting hurt, or worse, killed. Besides, if the corner cutting is to such a degree you fear for your safety, you are better off not working for the operator. To directly address the question, sit down with the boss and politely point out your concerns, then act accordingly.