Q: What is a crop duster?
A: It is a somewhat outdated term used to describe either an aircraft used in agricultural aviation or the pilot who flies that aircraft. It is outdated because, although agricultural products were available only in a “dust” form over half a century ago, virtually all products are applied today as a liquid, which is sprayed. Yesterday’s crop dusters are today’s aerial applicators or ag pilots, but they all mean the same thing.
Q: How many crop dusters are out there?
A: There are approximately 2400 companies in the U.S. certified by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Both airplanes and helicopters are used in the industry, and there are about 5,000 aircraft with approximately that many trained pilots.
Q: Who regulates crop dusting activities?
A: Almost everybody. Individual states regulate the pesticide application certification and certain loading and storage containment requirements. The federal agencies include FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), FDA Food and Drug Administration), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), etc.
Q: Are helicopters better than fixed wing aircraft for spraying?
A: No, they are not. A helicopter creates a lot of downwash when it is hovering and that leads many to believe it provides more penetration into a crop canopy during application. As a helicopter moves from a hover to forward flight, that downwash is diminished. The rotors become similar to a flying “disk” and the result is no more downwash than is found coming from the wings of a fixed wing aircraft. The reality is that, all other conditions being equal, neither has the advantage in quality of application.
Q: Can ag aircraft be hijacked and used as a missile like they did on September 11?
A: Virtually all ag aircraft are single seat aircraft, so hijacking is out of the question. A handful of ag aircraft have two seats and these are used for flight training and also for certain drug eradication programs in other countries.
Q: How are agricultural chemical products regulated?
A: Agricultural chemical products are regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency.) Years of testing go into every product before it is registered and legal to use in the U.S. Manufacture and distribution of the products is carried out in a manner similar to pharmaceutical drugs, with security and stringent controls at every level.
Q: Are crop dusters really necessary?
A: The aerial application industry in the U.S. is an integral part of American agriculture. Without these aircraft available as tools in food production, one third of Americans would go to bed hungry. Without crop dusters to treat cotton, yields would be substantially reduced and you would be forced to pay an exorbitant price for a simple cotton T-shirt. You may not even see agricultural aircraft in your part of the country, but you would surely be affected if they weren’t allowed to fly.
Q: How can I learn more about the crop dusting industry? Our operator members are dedicated to providing the very best aerial application service possible, with an equal commitment to be conscientious stewards of our fragile environment.