NAAA launches the first certification program for aerial applicators to increase safety and application efficacy.
Aerial applicators, now more than ever, operate in an environment of competing interests. An ever-increasing demand for timely and effective applications is challenged by factors such as added regulatory burden, rising insurance costs, and stiffer pesticide label language, just to name a few. The agricultural aviation industry is rising to these challenges and, in character, has moved to advance education, rather than regulation, as the path forward.
The new Certified-Professional Aerial Applicator Safety Steward (C-PAASS) program is a voluntary program allowing those aerial applicators who strive to constantly educate themselves to better their safety and applications to be recognized for their efforts. The initial certification requirements are based on education and professional opportunities already available to all ag aviators.
After many years of development, the NAAA and NAAREF have officially launched their professional certification for the future of agricultural aviation, the Certified-Professional Aerial Applicator Safety Steward (C-PAASS) program to serve as the industry’s flagship certification and as a roadmap for the pursuit of the best educational opportunities currently available. While by no means a requirement, this voluntary program allows those aerial applicators who strive to constantly educate themselves to better their safety and application quality to be recognized for their efforts. Secondarily, the certification can signal to customers, regulators, and others outside the industry their commitment to professionalism.
C-PAASS certification is offered annually to individual ag pilots, both operator and non-operator. As the first year for C-PAASS, its requirements are based entirely upon education and professional opportunities already available:
|PAASS Attendance||2021 Season*||2022 Season*||2023 Season*|
|Operation SAFE Participation||2022 Season* and/or 2023 Season*|
|Membership in NAAA||2023 Member|
|Membership in State/Regional Ag Aviation Association||2023 Member|
This is only the beginning of the comprehensive program. As NAAA develops its own Learning Management System (LMS), new on-demand courses and content will be incorporated into the C-PAASS program. A wide variety of topics will eventually be included in the online-based learning management system, including those covered in the knowledge and skills section of 14 CFR Part 137 and those on how to set up agricultural aircraft to make on-target applications properly.
C-PAASS-certified aerial applicators can use their certification status to inform regulatory officials and insurance agents and to market to their customers that they have undergone additional training and development to ensure that they safely provide high-quality service. This was the impetus for developing C-PAASS—to expand and gain recognition for maximizing professionalism and to show allied businesses, from insurance to pesticide providers, additional benefits should be warranted for professional certification, such as possible insurance discounts and more flexibility on pesticide label language. For instance, some labels already require Operation S.A.F.E. participation to use. It’s possible that in the future, C-PAASS-certified aerial applicators may be able to apply at lower spray application rates (GPA) or with reduced wind-directional buffer zone distances, etc.
Whatever additional benefits are bestowed upon C-PAASS ag aviators, the program will undoubtedly demonstrate agricultural aviation’s professionalism and positive public image to the industry’s customers, regulators, and the public we help feed, clothe and protect.
To submit a 2023 C-PAASS Application:
- Check your eligibility – You will need to log in using your NAAA username/password. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you need assistance.
- If eligible, scroll to the bottom of the page and locate the 2023 C-PAASS Application tile. Hover over it and click the green Register (Free!) button.
- You will be prompted to attest to your completion of each of the requirements and directed to upload documentation of your 2023 membership in a State/Regional agricultural aviation association. NAAA Staff will be automatically notified to review your application once this documentation is submitted.
- Your application will be reviewed within three business days.
- If your application is accepted, you will be provided a link to pay the certification fee (currently $100) and obtain your digital certificate.
According to NAAA CEO Andrew Moore, “Professional certification is an idea that the NAAA and NAAREF Boards have been discussing going back to the turn of the Millennium when pesticide manufacturers approached us about it for aerial label use. NAAA’s size, budget, and reserves prevented us from executing a program, but we’ve been researching and developing plans since those early days. We’ve also had great guidance from past NAAREF Presidents Rod Thomas, Brian Rau, and Dominique Youakim in providing organized, thoughtful, and progressive guidance. Having resources and staff more readily available, we have C-PAASS.”
It’s too early to quantify the program’s effectiveness in reducing insurance costs or providing more flexibility on pesticide labels. The program is less than two months in, and NAAA reports there are fewer than a dozen C-PAASS-certified pilots to date.
According to Moore, the Association has seen significant interest from government agencies. NTSB’s safety recommendations from its 2014 Special Investigative Report on the ag aviation industry included the industry to “distribute guidance covering 14 CFR Part 137 knowledge and skills subject areas and skills test items.” The NTSB communicated that C-PAASS may be the program that addresses that final recommendation that the industry has yet to cover. That will be a noteworthy accomplishment and show NTSB our commitment to safety.
In addition, with the deadline approaching later this year for implementation of EPA’s updated certification standards for states to develop for pesticide applicators, which includes the states having unique testing and educational training criteria for those in the aerial category, there is growing interest in the C-PAASS educational programming.
NAAA is looking at making the past three years (2021-2022 and 2020-2021) of the PAASS program available on NAAA’s new web-based Learning Management System so now every ag pilot can qualify for C-PAASS in 2023.
Moore continues, “There is no question in my mind that C-PAASS will save lives and hopefully take us to that goal of zero fatal accidents in a year–of course, its success is directly relational to those that participate. We see that 86% of ag aviation accidents over the past five years come from ag pilots either that are not attending or not annually attending PAASS. PAASS has reduced accidents and drift incidents by 26% in 25 years, with only a 47% attendance rate. If the industry unites collectively and embraces this professional certification program, the good forthcoming for ag pilot’s families, pocketbooks, and public reputation will be immeasurable.”