NAAA asks drone operators to be extra cautious about low-flying ag aircraft

Spring, summer and early fall are for many the happiest time of the year. It’s the growing season and farmers and those that assist them are working hard. But the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) in the U.S. has a safety message that applies to agricultural operations north of the border, too.

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. Eric Dumigan Photo
Agricultural aviators fly as low as 10 feet off the ground, meaning they share airspace with UAVs. Eric Dumigan Photo

If you’re going to fly a UAV this summer, please be responsible and do what is necessary to avoid agricultural aircraft.

Agricultural aviators fly as low as 10 feet off the ground, meaning they share airspace with UAVs. That’s why the NAAA is asking UAV operators to do everything they can to avoid ag aircraft doing important, low-level work.

“While flying at speeds that can reach 140+ miles per hour, agricultural aviators are unlikely to see UAVs,” said NAAA executive director Andrew Moore. “That’s why it’s so important for UAV operators to protect agricultural aviators in any way they can.”

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

In addition to lobbying Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration for UAV regulations that protect agricultural aviators and other low-flying manned aircraft, NAAA has enlisted its members and state association partners to help educate farmers, crop consultants, ag retailers and the public about safe and responsible UAV operations in rural areas.


NAAA recommends that UAV operators:

  • Become certified and well-trained in operating a UAV;
  • Contact local agricultural aviation operators before flying;
  • Equip UAVs with a tracking device, such as ADS-B Out, to send a signal to ag aircraft with similar tracking-reading technology;
  • Equip UAVs with strobe lights;
  • 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; and
  • Review NAAA’s UAV safety video and other UAV safety information.

When certain birds hit an ag aircraft, they can break through the windshield and cause a crash. They can be lethal. A UAV made of more than feathers, hollow bones and sinew has the potential to be even more deadly.

So, enjoy everything agriculture provides this growing season, but remember to operate UAV’s safely so ag aviators can keep working and enjoy their growing season, too.

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