NAAA is involved in several transportation issues. This includes working to prevent low-altitude obstacles, whether they be towers or unmanned aircraft systems, from jeopardizing the flight safety of manned ag aircraft and/or hindering their access to arable farmland; to trying to update the Federal Aviation Regulations pertaining to agricultural aviation to consider the modernized aerial application industry.

In April of 2020, the FCC approved Ligado Network’s application to operate a 5G network in the L-band radio spectrum. This is the band adjacent to the one used for GPS. The FCC is the agency that approves the use of a range of frequencies of electromagnetic waves assigned to broadcasting stations in the U.S.

Ligado’s proposed network will interfere with GPS and other satellite-based technology. NAAA immediately joined a coalition to oppose the decision. The coalition has over 70 organizations and companies, and includes aviation, agriculture, weather, engineering, surveying, and defense interests. Ligado is the new name of LightSquared, which was forced into bankruptcy and restructuring following a loss almost 10 years ago on this same GPS interference issue. At that time, LightSquared insisted that the GPS industry should have to deal with any issues caused by their 5G system.

Ligado’s 5G technology would interfere with aviation and other GPS receivers when the receivers get close to a Ligado 5G tower. A study by the DOT revealed that most non-IFR-certified GPS equipment, such as that used for general aviation, would experience interference at close to a mile from a Ligado tower. For GPS equipment certified for IFR, the interference would not occur until the GPS equipment got to within around 250 feet of the 5G transmitter, but the DOT report noted this is still a major concern for low altitude aircraft operations. Ligado Networks hopes to start commercial deployment of 5G services as soon as mid-2021.

In May of 2020 the coalition worked with U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) staff to get numerous senators to sign a letter which asked the FCC to reconsider their decision. The coalition also prepared a talking-points document and FAQ’s briefing about FCC’s approval of Ligado’s plan and submitted a letter to the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services that outlined several of the problems with Ligado’s technology and FCC’s rushed job of approving it. On May 22, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) filed a petition to stay FCC’s order as well as a request for the FCC to reconsider its decision, which the coalition supported via a letter.

In July of 2020 the House Agriculture Committee submitted a letter to the FCC asking them to reconsider their Ligado order. The coalition authored another set of talking points on the harm Ligado’s network could do specific to aviation. Throughout that summer aviation and aerospace industry representatives of the coalition met with several FCC members to convey concerns with FCC’s Ligado order specific to aviation. In September and October of 2020 this group met with additional FCC staff and FCC Bureaus to convey these same concerns. In October of 2020 the coalition submitted a letter expressing its concerns with the Ligado decision to Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman at that time Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

On January 1, 2021, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) was enacted. The NDAA addressed the harmful interference that would be caused by the FCC Ligado order, by requiring an independent technical review of the Ligado order by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to submit an estimate to Congress of the full range of damages caused by the order. The NDAA also prohibited the DoD from contracting with any entity that engages in terrestrial service in the L-band absent a certification from the Defense Secretary that such service does not cause harmful interference to any DoD GPS devices; and prohibiting DoD’s use of taxpayer funds made available via the NDAA to mitigate the damages incurred by DoD. The coalition has submitted letters supporting these points in November of 2020. On January 19, 2021 the coalition submitted a letter to the FCC, referencing the NDAA and asking again for the FCC to grant the pending request to stay the Ligado order and reconsider the decision.

In April of 2021 NAAA signed on to two letters, one sent to President Joe Biden and the second sent to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The letters were sent on the one-year anniversary of FCC’s approval of Ligado Network’s application The letter reminded its addressees of the threat that Ligado’s network presents to GPS and that it would have a significantly negative impact on many aspects, including the nation’s economy, aviation, agriculture, national security, and public safety.

In June of 2021 NAAA signed a letter endorsing the RETAIN Act which aims to protect GPS from Ligado Network’s plan. NAAA joined with 83 other signatories on the letter of support. The full name for the RETAIN Act is Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act or “RETAIN GPS and Satellite Communications Act.” The legislation would make Ligado financially responsible for any and all costs incurred by the public and private sector caused by interference from Ligado’s 5G network. The original FCC order granting Ligado permission to move forward with their planned 5G network recognized the potential for harm to GPS but only protected U.S. Government GPS. The costs that must be covered by Ligado under the legislation include, but are not limited to, those for engineering, construction, site acquisition, research, and personnel and labor costs. The RETAIN Act was sponsored by Senators Inhofe, Rounds, and Duckworth. It was introduced in the Senate on June 22, 2021. The coalition is currently working on finding sponsors for similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

In July of 2021 NAAA participated in a meeting with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (Academies) to discuss a technical review to be conducted by the Academies to examine how Ligado Network’s planned 5G network in the L-band radio spectrum (the band adjacent to the one used for GPS) will interfere with non-certified GPS devices. The planned technical review by the Academies is based on the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which requested the Academies conduct an independent technical review of the FCC’s decision to authorize Ligado to develop their network. It will focus on assessing how harmful interference from Ligado’s network will impact GPS performance. It will also examine the feasibility and effectiveness of mitigation measured proposed in the FCC order authorizing Ligado’s network and determine the best approach for evaluating the harmful interference. NAAA provided the Academies with an overview of how critical non-certified GPS are for the aerial application industry.

In May of 2022 NAAA, along with 27 state and regional agricultural aviation associations, joined with 61 other organizations in letters written to President Joe Biden and the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The letters were sent on the second anniversary of the FCC’s approval of Ligado Networks’ application. The letter reminds elected officials of the harm Ligado’s proposed network presents to GPS, satellite communications, and weather forecasting services. It asks them to work with the FCC to stay the order and allow congressionally mandated studies currently being conducted sufficient time to conclude and be analyzed.

In August of 2022 U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed, ranking member and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a group of their colleagues today in sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging them to reconsider granting Ligaodo Network’s request. Also in August, Ligado applied to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) for use of the L-band spectrum in Canada. Ligado suggested ISED use the 2020 FCC decision for guidance.

In September 2022 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issued their report on Ligado’s planned operations in the L-band. NASEM confirmed FCC’s 2020 decision will create significant risks of harmful interference to GPS-dependent aircraft safety systems used by essential air operators when operating within proximity to Ligado towers, validating the raised by the FAA and the aviation industry. The report also found that the proposed solutions to potential interference to GPS caused by Ligado’s network are not feasible in terms of either timeliness of cost effectiveness.
At the end of November 2022, it was reported in the news that Ligado was seeking another round of funding to avoid bankruptcy as their plans for deploying their technology continue to be delayed by face stiff opposition. Senator Jim Inhofe, who was a staunch opponent to Ligado’s proposed network, retired.

Updated February 2023

Unmarked, low-level obstacles have been a top concern of the aerial application industry when it comes to aviation safety. Wind energy turbines, meteorological evaluation towers (METs), real time kinematic (RTK) towers, and other ground-affixed obstructions are, in many instances, not marked or lit in or near agricultural areas where aerial applicators are flying.  This can result in them being difficult if not impossible to see when flying around them. From 2010 through 20212 there were 20 part 137 accidents involving towers and sadly 10 of those resulted in fatalities. One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for legislators to save lives is by setting safety standards for all towers over 50 feet to be marked, lit and their coordinates logged in a publicly accessible database.NAAA has been aggressively tackling the unmarked, low-level tower threat (including METs) the last several years, including working through both Congress and the FAA.

Marking Efforts Through Congress— NAAA was successful in working with Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO), now Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, to include legislative language in the 2016 FAA Reauthorization extension bill to require the marking of towers between 50-200 feet with an above-ground base of 10 feet or less in diameter so long as the towers are on undeveloped land, among other conditions. The bill also requires that towers be logged in a FAA database accessible to agricultural aviators.

After this occurred the telecommunications industry claimed to have been taken by surprise by these changes and successfully pushed to lighten their marking requirements in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill. The telecommunications industry claims unmarked towers don’t pose a threat to low-altitude aviators and the cost of marking towers is too high, as is the risk to tower workers who would have to mark existing towers. At the request of Congress, NAAA worked to find a more cost-effective alternative to the marking requirements. As a result, the 2018 FAA Reauthorization contained language that solely requires marking or the logging into a database of non-MET towers in rural areas between 50 and 200 vertical feet and an above-ground base up to 10 feet in diameter. METs, still must be both marked and logged.

Additionally, in the summer of 2019 NAAA conducted a thorough analysis of tower -related accidents across all sectors of aviation and discovered from 2008 to 2018, there were 40 accidents and incidents from collisions with METs, communication towers, towers supporting power lines and wind turbines resulting in 36 fatalities. This includes 22 Part 137 accidents and nine part 137 fatalities. NAAA used this startling new data to encourage landowners and tower companies to properly mark their towers and has taken this information to Congress as further evidence communication towers also need to be properly marked.

NTSB Recommendations – In addition to NAAA’s tower marking efforts, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made recommendations to the FAA in 2013 to: (1) create and maintain a publicly accessible national database for the required registration or all meteorological evaluation towers; and (2) amend 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 77 to require all meteorological evaluation towers be registered, marked, and—where feasible—lighted. In late 2018 the NTSB issued newly revised Safety Alert SA-016 titled “The Hazards of Unmarked Towers,” urging pilots to be vigilant for unmarked meteorological evaluation towers (METs) and other unmarked towers such as GPS functionality and telecommunications towers. 

Emerging Hazards – A more recent potential hazard in some parts of the country is the erection of RTK towers for use with farm and construction equipment auto-steering that can likewise be deployed at any location in a matter of hours. The RTK towers are like METs in their difficulty to see, but usually measure only 105 feet in height and are supported with guy wires. Communication with one of the primary owners of these towers in the Upper Midwest told a representative of NAAA they did not intend to mark or light their towers because regulations did not require it. In some areas, ag operators have been reluctant to openly oppose these towers because they are desired by their farmer customers. Regardless, safety dictates the towers should be marked for maximum visibility for the safety of low altitude aviators.

Without sensible placement and proper marking of all types of towers and other obstacles occurring in low-altitude airspace in agricultural areas, farmers may be at risk of losing important aerial application services performed on their cropland. Towers erected directly in the flight path of aerial applicators’ landing strips and/or hampering the accessibility of treatable cropland could literally shut down aerial application operations. 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, let alone other services low-level aviators contribute to benefit the public. In that vein, NAAA launched the Towers Policy section of its website, which provides tools to educate the public on the dangers of unmarked towers to pilots of low-altitude aircraft; and addresses the safety and accessibility concerns associated with wind turbines. The tools illustrate how poor tower marking and improper wind turbine siting put pilots’ lives and farmers’ livelihood at risk. NAAA has urged federal agencies that help to subsidize and promote wind energy, such as the USDA and DOE, to help in its campaign to inform the public that improper placement of wind towers may pose significant dangers to low-altitude aviation operations and may negatively affect agricultural production. In order to prevent encroachment from towers to an applicator’s airstrip, NAAA encourages private airstrip owners to register their airstrips with the FAA.  This facilitates the ability to prove existence and use of a landing area prior to a troublesome tower being erected.

USDA Rural Broadband Grant Recipients- as the USDA develops financing, policy and other aspects related to rural broadband development, the conference report of the enacted legislation directs the USDA to take into account existing FAA requirements for marking towers, specifically the law requiring towers below 200 feet in rural areas be marked or logged into a database. NAAA worked to have this provision included in the report.  The report recognizes this is important “to protect the safety of aerial applicators, aerial firefighters, public health applicators, medevac units, law enforcement and other low-altitude aircraft.” This is particularly important not just for rural broadband programs specified in the 2018 Farm Bill, but also for any potential infrastructure packages Congress might consider. NAAA created education materials detailing tower marking laws and best practices that USDA will distribute to recipients of loans and grants awarded by under the USDA’s Re-connect program.

While the national database of low-altitude towers has yet to be completed, there are some resources ag aviators can utilize. Both the Daily Digital Obstacle File (published every business day) and the Digital Obstacle File (published every eight weeks) can provide information about potential flight path obstacles before takeoff.

The FAA receives obstacle information from a variety of sources both inside and outside the FAA. The FAA then evaluates the obstacle data based on its analysis of supporting documentation and assigns an accuracy code. These include many obstacles of interest to aviation users, including obstructions above or below 200 feet AGL, mainly near airports. Thanks in part to a new automated process, low-altitude obstacles can be added to this database more quickly making it a valuable resource for agricultural aviators, however, for now all structures below 200 feet not near airports are only submitted to this database voluntarily. The tower marking requirements for communications towers under 200 feet in rural areas will make this database far more robust.

Additionally, FAA’s Obstruction Evaluation / Airport Airspace Analysis (OE/AAA) has developed a system website, users can now be notified when a structure is proposed in an area that might impact operations allowing you to petition the local zoning authority to build the tower(s) elsewhere or mark it to ensure it will be easily visualized for low-flying aviators. You can sign up for alerts here.

In early December of 2020 NAAA had contact with Balmoral Engineering, an Australian company that manufactures a rotating multi color wire marking device.  Preliminary discussions with their US distributer, Sicame USA, indicated that they were willing to work together on some type of strategy to promote the use of the device with power distribution companies.  Balmoral Engineering is also researching to see if their device would work with angled wires such as tower guy wires. 

NAAA has had requests for assistance to members who are experiencing obstructions encroaching on their private airports.  NAAA has provided information to them and the offer of legal assistance from John Wright.  The FAA does not get involved in issues involving obstructions to private airports.  This is a land use issue and NAAA encourages members to become involved in state and local zoning. The registration of airports with the FAA here is encouraged as this provides a method to legitimatize claims to zoning authorities that private airports should be given consideration for relief from obstructions. Currently registered airport owners should also go to this site occasionally to review your airport information and ensure that your airport is listed as “operational.”  

NAAA continues to stay in contact with the FAA regarding the expected NPRM on low level obstruction marking.  NAAA is pursuing action through legislative representatives to put pressure on the FAA to act on this important safety issue.  House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Member Sam Graves (R-MO) is pressuring the FAA to expedite their completion of the tower marking/logging rule. In a September 28, 2021, letter to the FAA, Representative Graves reminded the FAA in no uncertain terms that the FAA is “blatantly ignoring this congressionally directed and long-overdue safety-critical rulemaking.”  In addition, NAAA has made attempts to include language within the infrastructure and reconciliation bills that are making their way through Congress to include language that would bring communications under marking and lighting requirements for towers between 50-200 feet in rural areas with a ten-foot diameter or less. The expected date for the NPRM continues to be pushed back and most recently the FAA was not able to give a date, saying the FAA has higher priorities.  

Four fatal ag aviation accidents occurred over an 11-day stretch from July 23 to Aug. 2. As a result, NAAA received direct communications from senior level managers at the FAA inquiring, on behalf of the FAA Administrator, about the recent spate of fatal ag aviation accidents and asking how the FAA can help.  NAAA has reminded the FAA that getting the NPRM published would be of help regarding fatal accidents. 

Flying in the Wire and Obstruction Environment Course was held at the 2022 Ag Aviation Expo.  The course had over 150 people attend and was well received.  Plans are underway to hold the longer, eight-hour course on Thursday, December 7th at the 2023 Expo in Palm Springs, CA.  NAAA has developed a wire marking presentation that will be available for members to present to their local electrical companies.  Several FAA operational experts and human factors researchers interviewed 23 ag pilots at the 2022 Ag Aviation Expo as part of a focus group study of wire strike accidents. The goal is to better understand why these accidents occur and what can be done to prevent them. During the focus group it was recommended that NAAA create a non-punitive, anonymous reporting process for reporting wire strike accidents to get a more accurate assessment of the number of these that occur annually.

Updated February 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a Special Investigative Report (SIR) in 2014 addressing agricultural aircraft accidents which occurred during the period from January through early October 2013, and targeted accidents in such areas as pilot work and sleep schedules, pilot training and experience and aircraft maintenance. The NTSB released the report along with safety recommendations to both the FAA and the ag aviation industry. In addition to the report, investigators developed a new video and Safety Alert to provide guidance for pilots and operators to increase safety in the industry.

The NTSB report concluded with four action items that could be implemented jointly by the FAA and NAAA through NAAREF and its educational programs. These issues and areas are:

  1. Guidance for fatigue management is lacking for agricultural aircraft operations, and such guidance could help operators and pilots develop effective strategies to reduce the likelihood of fatigue, dehydration, hunger, and other physiological factors that can negatively affect a pilot’s concentration, decision-making, and performance.
  2. Risk management guidelines and best practices specific to agricultural aircraft operations are necessary tools to help operators and pilots mitigate the unique risks associated with their operation. Risk management is a decision-making process by which pilots can systematically identify hazards, assess the degree of risk, and determine the best course of action.
  3. A resource that contains detailed information related specifically to agricultural aircraft inspection, maintenance best practices, and quality assurance can reduce the likelihood that unsafe practices may be introduced and perpetuated.
  4. Standards and procedures are essential for safe operations and, without a resource that contains detailed information related specifically to the agricultural aircraft operations knowledge test topics and skills test items in existing FAA guidance materials, unsafe, nonstandard practices can be introduced and perpetuated.

In addition to the special investigation report, a video titled “Improve the Safety of Agricultural Aircraft Operations” was also produced to accompany the report. Investigators also developed a new NTSB Safety Alert number SA-035 titled “Preventing Obstacle Collision Accidents in Agricultural Aviation,” to help pilots and operators better avoid obstacles such as Meteorological Evaluation Towers (METs). The NTSB mentioned its work in the SIR to prompt more action by the FAA and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and other entities to better mark these obstacles. The NTSB has issued a safety recommendation that FAA require all METs be registered, marked and—where feasible—lighted; and that a publicly accessible national database for all METs be developed. Collision with obstacles is among the most common types of agricultural aircraft accidents and there were three tower collisions that occurred in 2013.

NAAA responded to the NTSB that it looks forward to working with the FAA as per NTSB recommendation to address each of the action items listed in the report to increase safety and decrease accidents in the ag industry. Many of these items have been addressed in NAAA/NAAREF’s Professional Operating Guidelines document that has been made available to NAAA member and non-member pilots and operators. Additional areas have been and will continue to be covered in PAASS programs; Fly Safe bulletins; magazine and newsletter articles; web site content; and NAAA convention sessions. The 2015-2016 Human Factors Module of the PAASS program addressed the topic of pilot fatigue, and NAAREF agreed to produce a brochure about recognizing and dealing with fatigue in ag aviation. Additionally, the May-June 2015 issue of Agricultural Aviation magazine and other publications focused on fatigue.

In August 2015, NAAA/NAAREF updated the NTSB on the ways we have continued to respond to the recommendations they made to enhance ag aviation safety. Progress was explained on the projects mentioned above and other new initiatives. Most notable are the special May/June 2015 issue of Agricultural Aviation magazine dedicated to fatigue in ag aviation and several related articles in the July/August magazine. The Human Factors module on fatigue was used as the cornerstone for the 2015/2016 PAASS program.

In the spring of 2016 a brochure titled Combatting Fatigue in Ag Aviation was created, printed and distributed by NAAA and NAAREF and sent to all pilots and operators for which we had mailing addresses whether they were NAAA members or non-members. The Human Factors Module of the 2016-2017 PAASS Program was titled “Risk Management in Agricultural Aviation” and is designed to address the NTSB’s second action item in their list of goals for NAAREF to address in their educational programming. The 2017-2018 PAASS Program Human Factors Module has been produced to address the third action item on the NTSB’s recommendation list. This program titled “Maintenance Related Aircraft Accidents” reminds attendees of the need to properly maintain and inspect their aircraft to make sure they are airworthy and in top operating condition.

In June 2018, NAAA/NAAREF updated the NTSB on educational accomplishments it has made to enhance ag aviation safety. Detailed information was submitted on the projects listed above and a commitment was made to continue using our resources of the PAASS Program, Fly Safe bulletins, eNewsletter, NAAA website and the NAAA national convention to inform and educate our industry on new safety equipment and techniques. NAAREF presented a video titled “Fatigue” at the NAAREF Safety Session at the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo, which was then added to the website page of educational videos.
NAAREF received a response letter from the NTSB in August 2018 acknowledging the report and giving a favorable response to NAAREF’s handling of NTSB’s recommendations. NTSB considers the recommendations on guidance on fatigue management and aircraft inspection and maintenance to be “Closed with Acceptable Action.” The recommendation on ag aircraft risk management guidelines is acceptable pending an FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) before closing that recommendation. One additional recommendation on developing and distributing guidance on the part 137 knowledge and skills test areas remains to be addressed. NAAREF is working with FAA to develop this guidance material.  

NTSB has posted the report and related information on their website. Links to the complete SIR and letters of recommendation to FAA and NAAREF are available. The new Safety Alert SA-035 and the video are available by clicking on the provided links. The final issue dealing with a part 137 knowledge and skills is being handled by the Knowledge and Skills Subcommittee. Their progress to date has been met with very favorable reviews by NTSB and FAA personnel who are participates in the subcommittee.

As part of their response to the SIR, in March of 2020 the FAA released a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) for 14 CFR Part 137 Operations that provides information on the best practices for agricultural aircraft operations. SAFO 20004 covers fatigue recognition and prevention, pre-flight planning, and knowledge and skills. This SAFO closed the recommendation on ag aircraft risk management guidelines. The only remaining open recommendation is the one on developing ag aviation knowledge and skills guidance. An NAAA Knowledge and Skills Subcommittee was formed to develop guidance on the part 137 knowledge and skills test. The subcommittee includes operator members as well as personnel from both the FAA and NTSB.

Safety and FAR passed a motion to keep the committee’s work moving forward and discussed two options for implanting what the knowledge and skills committee develops – changing Part 137 to require it or linking it to Letter of Authorization (LOA). It was decided to pursue the LOA option while waiting for Part 137 to open for changes.

In November of 2019, the Knowledge and Skills subcommittee learned from Jody Hemler that with the FAA that linking a requirement for biennial recurrent training to an LOA will not work, based on feedback from the FAA legal department. The option to have it inserted into Part 137 remains, as the FAA has intentions to open up Part 137 for changes in the near future as part of a Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification (MOSAIC) rulemaking project that would enable agricultural certification for UAS operations without the need for exemptions. The Knowledge and Skills subcommittee and those NAAA members who are participating in the MOSAIC process will monitor the process to determine if adding the recurrent training to Part 137 through the MOSAIC work is feasible. Following the February 2019 Board Meeting the Knowledge and Skills subcommittee began development of ACS (Airman Certification Standards) documents for all the areas of operation from 137.19e.

The first draft of the ACS was completed in February of 2021 and was reviewed by Richard Kimmel who commented the document was thorough, comprehensive, and could serve as an excellent resource for agricultural pilots. He was, however, concerned that if the document was shared in its present form with the FAA and NTSB, thus making it public, it could be used against agricultural aviators in individual court cases.

Based on this advice, it was decided to send the ACS table of contents as a stand-alone document, serving as a check list, to the NTSB with an explanation that the table of contents would be used to create online knowledge and skills training modules. Each of these modulates would cover a topic outlined in the ASC table of contents. The NTSB endorsed the plan but indicated they would need to see the final modules that actually impart the knowledge before they can sign off on completion of the knowledge and skills guidance development item. The ACS was reviewed by Attorney John Wright who also reviewed literature related to how guidelines and standards might be used in litigation. His research found that standards and guidelines can be used on both sides of litigation. Plaintiff attorneys working against an aerial applicator may use guidelines or standards against the aerial applicator when they have failed to adhere to them. However, aerial applicators can use the guidelines and standards to exonerate themselves from liability by demonstrating that they adhered to industry standards.

NAAA continued work on the Certified-Professional Aerial Applicator Safety Steward (C-PAASS) program, which launches in 2023. The initial C-PAASS program will focus on participation in PAASS and S.A.F.E. as well as state/regional ag aviation association and NAAA membership. In 2024 C-PAASS will be expanded to include the online educational modules in a Learning Management System (LMS) that will track and verify user participation in the training. The LMS structure will be based on the ACS.

The NAAA Education Center was launched in early 2023 and will house the registration and participation tracking for PAASS and Operation S.A.F.E., the LMS, and C-PAASS. The Education Center is currently being used to record participation in PAASS for the spring 2023 PAASS programs. PAASS attendance records from 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 are being added to the Education Center as are Operation S.A.F.E. records from 2022.

Updated February 2023

After a five-year effort, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted NAAA’s request to propose a regulation allowing states to exempt commercial drivers from having to get a HazMat endorsement to transport 1,000 gallons or less of jet fuel (aviation-grade kerosene). The next steps to finalize this rule are for the FMCSA to post the proposed rule in the Federal Register allowing for either a 30- or 60-day public comment period, digest the comments, and either finalize or retract the rule pending comments. In conversations with the FMCSA yesterday, a final rule should be issued before year’s end. NAAA will be submitting comments in support of the rule and advocating that membership and others do the same.

Presently, drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) must obtain a HazMat endorsement to transport jet fuel. The FMCSA waived the HazMat endorsement for the transportation of 1,000 gallons or less of diesel fuel. NAAA, due to the need to augment the pool of available commercial drivers to aid aerial application businesses and due to the extremely similar chemical properties of diesel and jet fuel, petitioned for an amendment to 49 CFR 383.3(i) to have this exemption extended to jet fuel as well.

NAAA’s justification for the waiver from the hazardous materials endorsement stems from difficulties finding potential employees to transport commercial motor vehicles for agricultural aircraft operators due to the drivers leaving for year-round work once they receive their CDL and hazardous materials endorsement from a seasonal aerial application business. Another difficulty is finding Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) locations and scheduling testing times to take the knowledge and skill tests required for a CDL in rural areas, where most aerial application businesses are. The closest DMV could be several hundred miles away. NAAA cited American Trucking Association statistics to the FMCSA that there was a shortage of 80,000 drivers and that the bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress passed in the fall of 2021 takes a step toward allowing 18-year-olds to apply for a CDL, down from the current national age limit of 21—another indication that trucking shortages have significantly affected the agriculture sector.

The path toward the FMCSA granting NAAA’s request to propose a regulation has had its challenges. It had been held up at the Transportation Security Administration. Then it was initially denied, but NAAA persevered and showed that the similarities between jet fuel (aviation-grade kerosene) and diesel, which has the HazMat exemption for transporting limited quantities, were nearly identical. NAAA also provided information to the FMCSA showing that its request for a waiver would not jeopardize safety since aerial application operators with CDLs are driving on rural roads and for shorter distances, mostly less than 20 miles, to go from one satellite strip to another. They also drive when the weather is favorable to make applications, not in foggy, rainy and cold and snowy weather due to aerial applications not typically being made during these times.

NAAA greatly appreciates the work of board member Matt Woolard of Woolard Flying Service Inc. in Arkansas and Katherine Holmstrom, executive director of the Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association, in seeking this waiver. NAAA will keep members aware of the proposed rule as it moves.

Updated February 2023

The above is not intended for publication. NAAA requests that should any party desire to publish, distribute or quote any part that they first seek the permission of the Association.