NAAA Releases 2012 Aerial Application Survey

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jay Calleja
Phone: (202) 546-5722

News Release: NAAA Releases 2012 Aerial Application Survey Results

A landmark NAAA survey of operators and pilots offers the most comprehensive glimpse of the aerial application industry ever

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 27, 2012 – Eight years after NAAA conducted its last survey a new view of the industry has emerged thanks to two landmark new surveys of Part 137 operators and pilots conducting agricultural operations. Taken together, the 2012 NAAA Aerial Application Industry Surveys paint the most comprehensive portrait of the aerial application industry ever.

The results are documented in the official operator and pilot reports, which are available exclusively to NAAA members. Free copies are being mailed to all NAAA members. The surveys also are available on NAAA’s website,, under Industry Surveys in the News & Publications section.

NAAA surveyed member and non-member Part 137 operators and pilots between December 14, 2010, and March 31, 2011, to gather data about the demographics, standard practices, equipment, crops and acres treated, risk perceptions, and health and safety of operators and pilots working in the aerial application industry. Comparisons with data obtained in prior surveys were made to identify trends. An additional purpose was to gather information about the aerial application of crop protection products and provide such data to the EPA and crop protection product manufacturers to aid in registration/reregistration, thereby increasing the availability of those products to the aerial application industry.

The survey was administered on NAAA’s behalf by SRA International and funded by a grant provided by the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education in Tyler, Texas. To ensure confidentiality, a Data Use Agreement was signed assuring the data belongs to NAAA and will not be disclosed without NAAA’s permission.

A total of 508 operators and 324 pilots responded to the web-based survey, which was modeled after similar paper-based surveys conducted in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2004. The pilot portion of the 2012 survey was the first of its kind to focus exclusively on agricultural pilots. The 37.6% response rate among operators is very high compared to other surveys among similar target audiences. The pilot results closely correspond to the operator results, suggesting that the reliability of both surveys is high.

Some of the key elements to emerge from the 2012 NAAA Aerial Application Industry Survey are as follows.

Demographics: On average, operator respondents have been Part 137 certificate holders for 21.8 years. Operators have been in the industry 6.1 years longer than pilot respondents (27.4 years to 21.3 years) and have, on average, 5.8 years more agricultural flying experience than non-operator pilots (25.5 to 19.7). The Average age of operator respondents was 53. Pilot respondents were 49.9, on average.

Flight Time: Operator respondents had an average of 12,336 hours of total flight time, including 9,946 hours of agricultural flight time. Total flight time for pilot respondents ranged from less than 100 to 34,000 hours for an average of 10,997 hours. Pilots logged an average 8,510 hours of agricultural flight time. Total flight time reported by operators was 11% more than ag pilots. Total agricultural flight time was 17% more than pilots.

Geography: Respondent business headquarters were in 44 different states, all but Connecticut, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Hawaii. The top five states for aerial application business headquarters among the operator respondents, in order, are: Texas, Arkansas, Minnesota and, tied for fourth, Kansas and California.

Equipment and Standard Practices: During normal operations, operators reported they had an average of two pilots and 2.1 aircraft per operation. That’s slightly less than the 2.2 aircraft per operation reported in the 2004 survey. Fixed-wing aircraft account for 87% of the fleet, helicopters 13%. These are comparable to the 2004 survey when the proportion of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters was 88% and 12%, respectively. Sixty-five percent of the helicopters are turbine powered and 68% of the fixed-wing aircraft are turbine powered.

The new operator survey also highlights the technological advances that have occurred over the past eight years. Closed cockpits are in place in 99% of the fixed-wing aircraft and 87% of the helicopters used for aerial application. GPS use has grown from 20% in 1994, to 60% in 1998, to 94.7% in 2006, according to an independent EPA survey, to the point where it is practically indispensible. Operators reported 99% of their aircraft had a GPS system with a mounted lightbar; however, only 93% of the operators said they used GPS as their primary means of swath guidance. Eight-five percent of aircraft used were equipped with smokers to determine wind direction. To minimize spray drift, 83% said they used smokers, 82% said they used drift control additives, 79% said they modified droplet size and 73% changed flight patterns to minimize spray drift.

Crop Treatment: When asked to list the usual and maximum number acres treated in a single day with a single aircraft for a variety of crops, the highest averages in terms of usual acres were applications to cotton, soybeans, corn and rice. This also was true for the maximum acres treated in a single day using a single aircraft: cotton (1,122 usual acres/1,993 max. acres), soybeans (1,111 usual/1,953 max.); corn (959 usual/1,820 max.) and rice (946 usual/1,701 max.). In nearly all instances, the average acres in 2010 were higher than in 2002. Acreage data in the 2012 and 2004 surveys were based on the two most recent full seasons of aerial application work.

Risk: Operators and pilots view power lines, communication towers, and meteorological evaluation towers (METs) as the top three occupational hazards; however, the relative magnitude of the risk was higher for pilots.

Operator Workload: Nearly one half of the operators work between 100 and 200 days a year doing operations and during the busy season, 67% worked between 8‒12 hours a day with most report getting 7‒8 hours of sleep per night.

The complete operator and pilot survey reports can be found in the News & Publications section of NAAA’s website, under Industry Surveys, but you must be an NAAA member to access them. Call 202-546-5722 or visit for more information on membership in NAAA. ♦

The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) represents more than 1,800 members in 46 states. NAAA supports the interests of small business owners and pilots licensed as professional commercial aerial applicators that use aircraft to enhance food, fiber and bio-fuel production, protect forestry and control health-threatening pests.