By Scott Bretthauer, NAAA Director of Policy, Education and Safety
The 2022-2023 PAASS Program will be the 25th season—a quarter century—of PAASS. Since the first season in 1998-1999, the goal of PAASS has remained the same—to reduce ag aviation accidents and drift incidents through education to keep increased rules and regulations at bay. The founders of PAASS recognized that the greatest knowledge of ag aviation lies within the industry itself. To enhance the industry’s knowledge about safety and environmental professionalism, PAASS was created as an educational program under the direction of and presented by your peers—fellow ag aviators.
Since its inception, the aerial application industry has seen a 25.8% decrease in accidents and a 26% decrease in drift occurrences. Another indication of the safety benefits of PAASS is that pilots who attended had fewer accidents. For example, between 2014 and 2020, there were 333 agricultural aviation accidents. Of those accidents, 117 involved pilots who had not attended PAASS in the five years prior to the accident; 52 involved pilots who had attended PAASS once in the five years prior to the accident; 41 involved pilots who had attended PAASS twice in the five years prior to the accident; 39 involved pilots who attended PAASS three times in the five years prior to the accident; 37 involved pilots who attended PAASS four times in the five years prior to the accident and 47 involved pilots who attended PAASS five times in the five years prior to the accident.
PAASS has received support from the U.S. EPA and the FAA and has been touted by the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials. PAASS is presented at state and regional agricultural aviation conventions across the U.S. and the Canadian Aerial Applicators Association’s convention in Canada.
The 2022-2023 PAASS Program will begin by examining agricultural aviation accidents that occurred during the 2022 application season. These accidents will be analyzed by several factors, including the main cause of the accident, the type of aircraft involved and the states where the accidents occurred. Accident numbers will be given for both total ag aviation accidents and fatal ag accidents. For controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents, the analysis will include a breakdown of those objects struck.
The 2022-2023 PAASS Program will then move to education aimed at reducing wire strike accidents. Over the five-year period from 2017 to 2021, 51 wire strike accidents involving agricultural aircraft occurred. These wire strike accidents represent 16% of the total agricultural aviation accidents and 24% of the fatal accidents during those five years. PAASS will teach participants about vision science and why it is often difficult, if not impossible, to see the actual wires during an application. There are also numerous illusions that can cause a pilot to misjudge the location of or distance to a wire. Because of this, wires need to be treated as an invisible hazard. Agricultural aviators will learn how to properly conduct reconnaissance of an application site and identify support structures and hardware to determine the location of wires.
It is critical that situational awareness is maintained at all times while working in the wire environment and that pilots know how to react correctly in their situation. From 2017 to 2021, in 61% of the wire strike accidents for which it could be determined, the pilots were aware of the wire they struck. PAASS will therefore train pilots on how to keep wires and other obstacles in the forefront of their mind so they do not forget about or lose track of them. Classroom and cockpit instruction from an agricultural aviation school will provide additional lessons on how to scout for wires and apply safely around them.
Lessons will be reinforced with interviews of three ag pilots who struck wires and lived to tell their stories. Two of those stories highlight the importance of understanding that ag aviators can forget about wires they’ve been working around, even when those wires are right in front of them. It’s also important that pilots listen to their gut feelings, which are biological reactions to your subconscious brain sensing danger before you become cognitively aware of it. Ag aviators need to react to this feeling by pulling up out of a field to a safe altitude and resurveying the area for dangers.
The environmental professional program will discuss using large spray droplets to reduce the risk of drift while also maintaining efficacy. It is commonly accepted that small spray droplets provide better coverage while larger spray droplets provide better drift mitigation. However, there is growing evidence that efficacy can be achieved with larger spray droplets. PAASS will focus on an operator who is successfully making applications using a droplet size larger than commonly used in the aerial application industry. His aircraft setup parameters and resulting droplet sizes will be provided so participants can understand how and why he sets his aircraft up to create larger droplets. Participants will also see how the operator inspects and maintains aircraft nozzles to ensure proper atomization during application.
There are several ways an agricultural aircraft can be set up to make larger droplet sizes, including nozzle selection, operating the spraying system at higher pressure, and controlling aircraft speed while making an application and still maintaining flight safety. Participants will see how using the larger droplets reduces the risk of drift. Just as importantly, they will also see how the application setups that generate large droplets are being used to make efficacious applications. A concern for many aerial applicators is that the use of larger droplets can reduce coverage and thus negatively impact the efficacy of the application. Examples of pest control from the operator, as well as results from a research study conducted by the USDA-ARS Aerial Application Technology Research Unit, will document success in making effective applications with a large droplet size.
The security segment of the 2022-2023 PAASS Program will discuss an intentional fuel contamination incident that occurred at an operation, causing one accident and one near miss. The incident is a reminder to all agricultural aviators that security is essential for their safety as well as the safety of their customers and the public.
Other topics will include an update on the EPA’s Endangered Species Bulletins that will cover where to find bulletins and how to use them to ensure label compliance with endangered species requirements. In response to some of the streaking issues seen during the 2021 season, particularly on corn, PAASS will provide thoughts on what commonly leads to streaking from aerial applications.
PAASS will also include a question-and-answer session to improve aerial applicators’ knowledge. PAASS will be four hours in length, and time will be allowed during the program for attendee discussions and sharing of experiences involving issues and practices related to their operations.
Participation in the 2022-2023 PAASS Program will teach you about avoiding wire strike accidents and increase your overall safety. It will also help you consider using a larger droplet spectrum to reduce the risk of drift while also providing the same level of efficacy your customers are accustomed to.
PAASS is your opportunity to improve your agricultural aviation knowledge. Register to attend one this fall or winter. Visit AgAviation.org and check the calendar of events to find dates and locations of state and regional meetings offering the 2022-2023 PAASS Program.