Home-NAAAFly Safe! Safety Reminders for the Busy Flying Season

Fly Safe! Safety Reminders for the Busy Flying Season

NAAA’s sister organization, the National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation (NAAREF), sends important safety alerts called Fly Safe messages to ag pilots every other Monday in April and May, and every Monday in June, July, and August. Additional safety reminders are issued whenever aviation activity warrants them. This is another invaluable service provided by the two organizations that have resulted in accident and drift incident trends declining over the past quarter of a century. Fly Safe messages are shared with NAAA members and non-members—specifically, all operators and pilots with a valid email address on file with the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). If you are a Part 137 operator or ag pilot who has not been getting the Fly Safe messages, please contact NAAA’s Scott Bretthauer at (202) 546-5722 or sbretthauer@agaviation.org to be added to the recipient list.

Below are a few safety reminders to keep in mind this summer.

Prioritize Avoiding Wires & Obstructions: Wire strikes caused 28% of the ag aviation accidents in 2023 and eight pilots lost their lives last year after hitting a wire. Throughout your 2024 season, no matter how busy you get, do not allow anything to take your focus off wires and other obstacles in the fields you treat. Before applying to fields you’ve treated for years, resist the temptation to rush your reconnaissance efforts. Instead of assuming nothing has changed in those fields, you must start with the assumption there has been a change until a thorough reconnaissance proves otherwise. It’s best to conduct a minimum of two complete orbits around the field in opposite directions. Background and light conditions impact your ability to identify obstructions, so making the orbits in different directions changes how you view the site and provides a greater opportunity to see hidden structures.

Obstructions have always been hazardous to low-altitude pilots’ health, and the number of telecommunications towers, GPS differential signal towers, meteorological evaluation towers, wind turbines and other obstructions erected in agricultural regions has increased significantly over the past several years, which increases the risk to ag pilots. Read the Spring 2024 Agricultural Aviation magazine article titled “Turns, Wires, and Nozzles – A Synopsis of the 2023-2024 PAASS Program” for an in-depth review on avoiding wires and obstructions. Learn more by attending the Flying in the Wire & Obstruction Environment Course before the Ag Aviation Expo on Saturday, Nov. 16, in Fort Worth, Texas. Register online at AgAviation.org/convention. This event will be offered free of charge for those who register in advance.

Don’t Fly Aggressively in an Effort to Get More Work Done: During the busy part of the season, a backlog of work and demanding customers put intense pressure on aerial applicators to push themselves to constantly maximize productivity. This frequently leads pilots to fly as fast as possible, which can eventually lead to flying and turning aggressively, increasing the risk of a stall spin or another type of accident. Flying fast and turning hard puts extra stress on both you and your aircraft. If you’re not gaining any extra acres, is the extra stress worth it? PAASS is not suggesting you fly your aircraft so slow that you’re at risk of stalling. But if you back off from flying as fast as the aircraft will go and instead fly it at a safe but more reasonable speed, you might see a positive impact on your daily work output. Reducing stress on yourself increases overall safety because you’re better rested and more focused on flying.

Avoid Potential Mid-Air Collisions by Considering Ferrying at 1,000’ & Equipping with ADS-B

PAASS has consistently reminded aerial applicators to “ferry above five (hundred) and stay alive” to reduce the chances of a mid-air collision. However, if turbine-powered ag airplanes are commonly turning at altitudes greater than 500 feet, does this recommendation adequately protect against collisions between ferrying and turning aircraft? Think about how high you go in your ag turns and how high other ag pilots working in your area go in their turns. You may likely realize that ferrying at 500 feet doesn’t provide the safety margin you thought it did. Ferrying closer to 1,000 feet will provide more clearance from aircraft making ag turns.

To further reduce your chances of being in a mid-air collision, consider equipping your ag aircraft with ADS-B In. It will allow you to know where other ADS-B equipped aircraft are, as well as provide those aircraft with your location. It can be set to provide audible warnings when another aircraft enters a user-set range, meaning it doesn’t need to be continuously monitored. Communicating on the radio with other ag pilots working in the area can also reduce the risk of a mid-air collision.

New Ag Pilots Should Focus on Safety, Not Productivity

The lack of experience with new ag pilots can put them at a higher risk of having an accident. However, poor mentorship can also significantly increase those risks. New ag pilots need a great deal of training, and it’s their mentor’s job to educate them in a safe manner. New pilots may have many hours in other types of aircraft, but that doesn’t mean their ag flying training should be sped up. How much of that previous flying time was spent flying in the wire environment or working the long days required in ag? If you intend to mentor a new pilot into ag aviation, be ready to devote the time and resources to do it properly, continuously monitor their progress and be available whenever they have questions or concerns.

Sending an inexperienced ag pilot out of their normal area where they are used to flying compounds the danger of a lack of experience in ag flying with the risk of working in unfamiliar territory. New ag pilots need fields specifically selected for them based on their current skills and comfort level. This is not likely to occur when they’re sent out of state during a period of intense spraying activity.

It is sometimes insinuated that inexperienced pilots are at fault for many of the ag accidents. But if these pilots are being turned loose in aircraft that they’re not ready for, to do jobs they’re not prepared to spray yet, whose fault really is it? For the inexperienced ag pilots reading this – when your mentor says you’re not ready yet for a bigger aircraft or a field with wires or other obstacles, listen to them. If you’re in doubt of your abilities to move to a higher performing aircraft or new locale, express those concerns. Mentors, ensure pilots are ready and proven to fly faster and larger aircraft and proven to perform in a new environment.

Funding for NAAREF services and programs, such as PAASS, the Fly Safe campaign and Operation S.A.F.E., comes from NAAA and other donors willing to invest in the future of agricultural aviation; make a donation at AgAviation.org/education/naaref/. We invite you to join the cause of preserving and protecting the aerial application industry, your livelihood, and your life by joining NAAA if you aren’t a member already. Call (202) 546-5722 or visit AgAviation.org/membership to join online.





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