Operation S.A.F.E. Program

Self-regulating Application and Flight Efficiency (S.A.F.E.)

“Drift control is the key to survival of aerial application in agriculture.” That's the way one U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist characterized the growing public concern over possible effects of spray drift.

In response to this concern, members of the National Agricultural Aviation Association, the organization of professional aerial applicators and pilots, developed Operation S.A.F.E. The word S.A.F.E., important in any pilot's vocabulary, is an acronym for Self-regulating Application and Flight Efficiency.

The intent of Operation S.A.F.E. is to clearly demonstrate that ag aviation recognizes its responsibility to minimize the potential for adverse health and environmental effects of agricultural chemical application. The program was approved by the NAAA Board of Directors in 1981.

Because the performance of one aerial applicator reflects on all others, participation in Operation S.A.F.E. is not limited to NAAA members. Any licensed operator or agricultural aviator is welcome to participate in Operation S.A.F.E. In order to qualify for the S.A.F.E. emblem, the participant must be a current member of the NAAA.

Operation S.A.F.E. is a comprehensive program of education, professional analysis of application, and commitment to the principles outlined by the NAAA Board of Directors. NAAA is convinced that full implementation of Operation S.A.F.E. offers substantial advantages to the operator, his customers, and the producers of chemicals applied by air. These advantages are found in economy of operation and application, as well an in increased safety and reduced health and environmental concerns.

The backbone of Operation S.A.F.E. is the Professional Application Analysis Clinic—the Operation S.A.F.E. Fly-In. Professional application analysis clinics are a key part of Operation S.A.F.E. Participation in an NAAA-approved swath analysis clinic under the direction of an authorized analyst, is essential to qualify for the Operation S.A.F.E. emblem. The emblem is affixed to an individual aircraft only when the aircraft, its pilot, and the operator have each met Operation S.A.F.E. guidelines.

Fly-ins have long been a popular activity among pilots. Their objectives traditionally range from getting together to swap experience and stories to socializing. However, among ag pilots, fly-ins have long been seen as a learning experience, an opportunity to improve their own performance and increase their professionalism.

The key to the effectiveness—and acceptance—of aerial application is the spray pattern of the aircraft itself and the dedication of operators to its accuracy. Swath study and analysis have been a part of aerial application since the first plane dusted an Ohio catalpa grove in 1921. Since that time, scientists at land grant universities, private corporations, and aerial applicators have been active in improving the state-of-the-art of aerial application. Chemical manufacturers have worked on chemical formulations and additives to improve the pilot's ability to put the product on the target.

Today, equipment is available to provide the operator a precise picture of swath characteristics, and to provide it quickly. Thus, the Operation S.A.F.E. fly-in becomes a professional application analysis clinic.

The Operation S.A.F.E. clinic gives the operator and pilot the opportunity to test his equipment with a trained analyst to help interpret the information and to recommend changes to improve performance. A follow-up test is immediately available, so the operator can be certain improvement does exist.

NAAA expects all applicators to remain informed of and comply with all pertinent legal requirements. In addition, participating applicators agree to submit voluntarily to an inspection of their equipment and operating procedures to determine:
  • Compliance with manufacturers’ mixing rates, application recommendations, and label requirements of agricultural chemicals.
  • Adequacy of safety procedures in storing and handling agricultural chemicals.
  • Compliance with flight safety procedures.

The NAAA urges every operator and pilot to participate in an Operation S.A.F.E. clinic yearly. At a minimum, the Operation S.A.F.E. Committee suggests an aircraft be pattern tested every 24 months or after any major changes. Check with your state ag aviation association to see when a clinic will be offered in your area. Display the Operation S.A.F.E. sticker and yearly decals on your aircraft with pride. Let your customers know that you have taken advantage of this opportunity to check your equipment and refresh your skills prior to taking on their job.