Nine! As of this writing on August 23, nine US ag pilots have lost their lives while ag flying and an additional one in Canada. It’s not an unheard-of number in years past, but still unacceptable. In the past 26-27 years since PAASS was implemented, the lowest number of fatalities was four in 2012, during a very slow spray season overall. The highest number of fatalities recorded was 19 in 2000 (Source NAAA).
Does this mean despite all the efforts by NAAA and individual operators, focusing on safety is a moot point? No, not by any means. When one considers the number of hours flown and, in the case of the corn run, the time frame, then sophisticated aircraft with numerous cockpit distractions, speed and size, fatality numbers could have been much worse without PAASS and the continuous safety messaging of NAAA and NAAREF.
However, it does cause one to contemplate that without PAASS why Brazil has an equal number of fatal accidents, proportional to the number of aircraft as the US with approximately a proportionally equal number of hours flown per season. That is a good question worth exploring. Nobody definitively knows the answer. Appropriate assumptions would be that a significant portion of the Brazilian ag-plane fleet consists of the slower Ipanema aircraft, while the others are turbine powered. Second, fields in many parts of Brazil are typically vast with fewer obstructions. Additionally, Brazilian pilots must attend an ANAC-certified (Brazilian FAA) ag-pilot school for their ag-pilot’s license. Although this training has a different approach than PAASS, it still is a safety factor.
Mission-oriented, get the job done, just one more load often over grossed, up against the competition, etc., is not an unusual mindset for US ag pilots. This is not just the American ag-pilot population, but a part of American culture compared to that of a more relaxed attitude of Brazilian and Latin American cultures. I see this in my travels in the US and Latin America. US operators treat me very well when I visit, but I would never ask them to stop spraying because of it. They are busy and I understand why entirely from my tenure spraying. But in Latin America, for the most part, it is different. When I visit operators there, everything comes to a complete stop. Typically, a large barbeque is provided. I don’t ask them to keep spraying, as it would be considered an insult to their efforts to welcome me.
I do not see much chance of a cultural change for either country. Each is pre-wired for the way they handle life. It would be inappropriate to say Latin Americans should kick it up a bit or that Americans should slow down. But in the final assessment, a bit less mission-oriented action on US pilots’ part would be a good thing. It actually might save a life or two, maybe even more!
Until Next Month,