Let's Be Fair About Sharing The Air
Low-Level Aviators Face Challenges with Tower Obstacles
Wind energy development appears poised for rapid growth in the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy has suggested that wind could supply up to 20 percent of the nation’s energy by 2030. Some are advocating for an even more ambitious goal of 25 x ’25: a national standard that would require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2025. Already, a majority of states have enacted some form of renewable electricity standard, although those standards vary considerably from state to state. The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) and the aerial application industry support responsible wind power development but are concerned about the unintended consequences that wind energy siting can have on arable farmland and aviation safety.
The airspace aerial applicators work in is becoming increasingly obstructed by transmission lines, communication towers, wind turbines and hard-to-see meteorological testing towers. That poses a real concern to the aerial application industry, not just in terms of safety, but also in terms of accessing farmers’ fields to treat their crops, since many prime wind-energy development areas are located in rural, agriculturally rich areas.
The obvious concerns the aerial application industry has with the construction of towers in rural areas relate to safety. Towers are one of the most dangerous obstacles an agricultural pilot encounters. A single fatal accident in the industry is one too many, and in the past decade there have been seven fatal accidents involving collisions with towers and an additional 14 fatalities involving collisions with power lines. Nearly 24 percent of the fatal accidents reported over the last 10 years have involved collisions with wires or towers.
Without sensible placement and proper marking of towers, farmers may be at risk of losing important aerial application services performed on their cropland. This would detrimentally affect, in some instances, the only method farmers have available to them when the time comes to apply seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals necessary to foster crop growth.
NAAA and its state association partners are working hard to make towers more visible for low-altitude pilots and to develop policies that consider aviation safety. NAAA’s Tower Safety Guidelines encourage developers not to erect wind towers on prime farmland in a manner that may inhibit aerial applicators’ access and ability to treat the land. NAAA has also developed a series of Wind Tower Education Ad Slicks and radio scripts designed to raise awareness about the issues surrounding wind turbines and meteorological towers proliferating across America's farmland. Some ads focus on the dangers of unmarked testing towers to pilots of low flying aircraft; others address the safety and accessibility concerns associated with wind turbines.
These obstacles are not just an aerial application concern. Improper wind turbine siting may negatively affect emergency medical flights, aerial firefighters, pipeline patrol planes and other low-flying operations. It is not just an aviation concern. Landowners are being asked to make crucial decisions that will impact farmers and their neighbors for years to come. NAAA encourages anyone considering leasing their wind rights to think seriously about the potential upsides and downsides before signing an agreement. Please explore the following pages to learn more about the impact of wind towers on aviation and agriculture.