Ag pilots learn about drone safety

Ag pilots learn about drone safety


By Bette McFarren

Pilots who spray crops are concerned for their safety in the presence of drone operations but appreciative of the accurate mapping of crops made by the drones. Constantin Diehl explained the safety measures that are taken during the operation of the drones. The drones do not fly often, said Diehl; their operations are preplanned and the FAA is notified of the area of operation.

Nevertheless, said a pilot from the Western Slope, how can you notify pilots who are already in the air. Cellphone technology is fine, if there is cellphone service. Many places on the Western Slope do not have good coverage. Also, having to know the location of the drones is an added responsibility for the pilot, who has enough to think about already. On the other hand, he acknowledged the benefit of accurate crop mapping to his profession.

Tom McKinnon of Agribiotics assured the pilots that if the drone operation is told of a manned aircraft operation scheduled for the same time, the drone operation will stand down.

McKinnon further explained that although airlines already have Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, it hasn’t passed down the line to most private pilots or crop dusters yet. Now the lower level pilots are still dependent on radar, which just shows a blip if you are near something. The broadcast system provides location at all times, and will probably be in most aircraft by 2020.

The object of the field tests along the Arkansas River bottom area west of La Junta on Friday is to determine if, under ordinary crop dusting conditions, the pilots can see the drones.

On Thursday afternoon, tests of the width and concentration of the spray from the planes were conducted. Each plane had three passes, with the score being an average of the three passes. Water and a harmless dye are used in these tests.

The pilots also studied the Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations in a required class for licensing. Bob Leisy of BASF, a large chemical corporation, said most people do not realize how much education and training is required of agricultural pilots.

On Friday morning, Jessica Freeman of the Colorado Aviation Association and other instructors conducted a workshop for first responders, acquainting them with all aspects of aviation rescue work: such as, how to shut down the aircraft, avoid the propellers and other dangers, open the cockpit and avoid setting off airbags, if the plane is so equipped.