Drone operators warned to watch for ag aircraft

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As the nation enters the upcoming growing season in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the National Agricultural Aviation Association is asking all Unmanned Aircraft System operators to be extra mindful of low-flying manned agricultural aircraft operations.

Agricultural aviators fly as low as 10 feet off the ground, meaning they share airspace with systems that are limited to flying no more than 400 feet above ground level. For this reason, the association is asking operators to do everything they can to avoid agricultural aircraft doing low-level work.

The association recommends that operators: equip drones with tracking technology, get certified and well-trained in operating a UAV, contact local agricultural aviation operations before flying by consulting agaviation.org/findapplicator, equip UAVs with visible strobe lights and high visibility marking, give the right-of-way to a manned aircraft, land UAVs immediately when a low-flying aircraft is nearby and carry UAV liability insurance.

In a test conducted by the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association and other stakeholders, including manned and unmanned aircraft organizations, and the state of Colorado, no pilot operating a manned aircraft could continuously visually track a 28-inch-wide drone when flying at regular speeds.

While they might be spotted for a second, drones are not constantly visible to pilots, meaning it’s up to the drone operator to avoid a collision. When birds hit an ag aircraft, they can break through an aircraft’s windshield, causing deadly accidents.

A study conducted by the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence showed UAV collisions with aircraft cause more damage than would a bird strike of similar size, due partially to UAVs’ dense motors and batteries, as opposed to a bird made mostly of water, feathers, hollow bones and sinew.

Learn more at agaviation.org/uavsafetycampaign, knowbeforeyoufly.org and thinkbeforeyoulaunch.org.

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