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Drone Operators Cautioned to Not Disrupt Low-Flying Ag Aircraft During Pandemic

ALEXANDRIA, VA – As the nation enters the upcoming growing season in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) is asking all Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operators to be extra mindful of low-flying manned agricultural aircraft operations.

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared crop input services to be an essential service during the pandemic. Aerial applicators are inputting nutrients, seeds and crop protection products to crops that will become consumers’ food and fiber supply. We cannot afford even a small disruption in the nation’s food supply chain during this critical time,” NAAA CEO Andrew Moore said. “Agricultural aviators perform applications on 28% of cropland nationwide, and their work cannot be delayed because of an unidentified UAS not yielding to them, as is required by law.”

Agricultural aviators fly as low as 10 feet off the ground, meaning they share airspace with UAVs that are limited to flying no more than 400 feet above ground level. For this reason, NAAA is asking UAV operators to do everything they can to avoid ag aircraft doing important, low-level work.

NAAA recommends that UAS operators:

  • Equip drones with tracking technology, such as ADS-B In, so you will know ADS-B Out equipped manned aircraft positions.
  • Get certified and well-trained in operating a UAV.
  • Contact local agricultural aviation operations before flying by consulting AgAviation.org/findapplicator.
  • Equip UAVs with visible strobe lights and high visibility marking.
  • Give the right-of-way to a manned aircraft. It’s the law.
  • Land your UAV immediately when a low-flying aircraft is nearby.
  • Carry UAV liability insurance.

In a test conducted by the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association and other stakeholders, including manned and unmanned aircraft organizations, and the state of Colorado, no pilot operating a manned aircraft could continuously visually track a 28-inch-wide drone when flying at regular speeds. While they might be spotted for a second, UAVs are not constantly visible to pilots, meaning it’s up to the drone operator to avoid a collision.

When birds hit an ag aircraft, they can break through an aircraft’s windshield causing deadly accidents. A study conducted by the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) showed UAV collisions with aircraft cause more damage than would a bird strike of similar size, due partially to UAVs’ dense motors and batteries, as opposed to a bird made mostly of water, feathers, hollow bones and sinew.

At this moment especially, when we’re all depending on the continued safe, affordable and abundant supply of food, fiber and bioenergy, don’t forget our nation’s agricultural aviators are working in the skies to help farmers produce it. If you’re going to fly a UAV this summer, please be responsible and do everything you can to avoid agricultural aircraft. Learn more at AgAviation.org/uavsafetycampaign, Knowbeforeyoufly.org and ThinkBeforeYouLaunch.org.

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