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8900.1 CHG 543

VOLUME 3  GENERAL TECHNICAL ADMINISTRATION

CHAPTER 52  PART 137 AGRICULTURAL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS

Section 1  Introduction to Part 137 Related Tasks

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3-4226    AGRICULTURAL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS. Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 137 applies to all operators, including Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), conducting agricultural aircraft operations. The definition of the term agricultural aircraft operation in part 137, § 137.3 includes forest firefighting activities (e.g., fire bombers or tankers). Anyone conducting such activities is required to have an Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate. The exceptions are agricultural operations by public aircraft and certificated 14 CFR part 133 external-load operators dispensing only water.

A.    Exemptions for UAS. Technical administration of a part 137 operator that wishes to use a UAS requires the inspector to have additional knowledge of Public Law (PL) 112-95, FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 333, Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems; the 14 CFR part 11 exemption process; 14 CFR part 107; and Volume 16. Certification of an operator using a small UAS requires an inspector to have knowledge of part 107. Please be aware, the operator of a UAS either cannot comply with several sections in part 137, or those requirements are not applicable to UAS operations. Therefore, an applicant proposing to use a UAS must receive a grant of exemption with relief from the appropriate sections of part 137. The applicant must provide a copy of the petition for exemption to the certification team. The phrase “unless otherwise exempted” is used numerous times in this volume and refers to an operator’s exemption, whether they are operating a small UAS under part 107 or under a PL 112-95, Section 333 exemption for a UAS that weighs 55 pounds or more.

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B.    Public Aircraft Operations (PAO). PAO (manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft (UA)) are those where the aircraft and operation are generally exempt from compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and which safety oversight regulations do not apply to these operations. At no time may a public operation have a commercial purpose. It can further be said that the flight needs to undertake an inherently governmental function that is so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by the government and require either the exercise of discretion in applying government authority or the use of value judgment in making decisions for the government; or to undertake other governmental functions, but only when needed to respond to an imminent threat to life, property, or natural resources, and no service by a private operator is reasonably available to meet the threat. Whether an operation qualifies as a PAO is determined on a flight-by-flight basis, under the terms of the statute.

C.    Government Operations. Not all operations by government entities are PAO. When operated by a government for a governmental function, the flight needs to be mandated by law or otherwise taken by a government for reasons such as national defense, intelligence missions, search and rescue, law enforcement (including transport of prisoners, detainees, and illegal aliens), security operations, firefighting, natural resource and disaster management, transport of mission-related cargo, equipment development and demonstration, employee or contractor training, and space, aeronautical, atmospheric, geographic, or oceanographic research.

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3-4227    WEB-BASED OPERATIONS SAFETY SYSTEM (WebOPSS). Aviation safety inspectors (ASI) must use the WebOPSS to issue part 137 letters of authorization (LOA) to agricultural aircraft operators. These authorizations should be issued during initial certification and modified when an operator requests a change or a change is directed by headquarters (HQ). There is no requirement for part 137 operators to hold digital signature capability. The principal operations inspector (POI) must digitally sign the WebOPSS authorizations and then request the operator’s signature. It is acceptable to send or receive these authorizations by fax or email for the operator’s signature. If an operator has not signed the authorization it is still valid once issued by the POI.

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NOTE:  Exemption holders operating UAS will be required by the conditions and limitations (C&L) to notify the certificate-holding district office (CHDO) to add any UAS to LOA A003 in WebOPSS.

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NOTE:  Part 137 WebOPSS authorizations are not subject to the requirements of 14 CFR part 119 for operations specifications (OpSpecs). ASIs should refer to these paragraphs as “part 137 authorizations,” not OpSpecs.

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3-4228    PUBLIC EMERGENCIES. Section 137.1(b) allows certificated agricultural operators (manned aircraft and UA) to deviate from part 137 operating rules for relief and welfare activities during public emergencies.

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A. Definition of Public Emergency. The term public emergency as used in part 137 means an emergency requiring relief in the public interest. The emergency is of such magnitude that if immediate action were not taken, life, property, or the economic welfare of a substantial portion of a population or a significant geographic area would be jeopardized by the circumstances of that emergency. The determination of a public emergency is made by an agency of the United States, a state, or local government. An example would be spraying to eradicate mosquitoes to control the spread of the West Nile or Zika Viruses. Any situation which is solely a matter of convenience or economic advantage to the operator is not deemed to be a public emergency.

B.    Deviation from Part 137 in Event of Public Emergency. An operator that deviates from part 137 shall complete the report required by § 137.1(c) within 10 days and submit it to their nearest Flight Standard District Office (FSDO).

3-4229    DEFINITION OF AGRICULTURAL AIRCRAFT OPERATION. An agricultural aircraft operation means the operation of an aircraft for the purpose of dispensing any economic poison; dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control; or engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.

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A.    Economic Poisons. An economic poison is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds, viruses, other forms of plant or animal life, or anything declared by the Secretary of Agriculture to be a pest. Viruses on or in living humans or other animals are excepted. Also, an economic poison is any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.

B.    Dispensing Live Insects and Other Agricultural Activities. Section 137.3 excludes the dropping of live insects as a dispensing activity. The applicability of part 137 also permits persons other than part 137 certificate holders to conduct nondispensing type agricultural activities such as bird chasing and antifrost agitation without an Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate. Regardless of whether nondispensing operations are conducted by a part 137 certificate holder or not, the operation must be in accordance with a waiver from the applicable provisions of 14 CFR part 91. If the operation will be over a congested area, the waiver provisions must provide a level of safety equivalent to that provided by a part 137 CAP (see Volume 3, Chapter 52, Section 2).

3-4230    MINIMUM EQUIPMENT LIST (MEL).

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A.    Generic Format. Most manufacturers of restricted category aircraft used in agricultural operations have not developed or requested approval for a Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL). Operators of such aircraft are limited in the choice of documents for such aircraft; however, an operator of a small, single-engine turbine-powered agricultural aircraft may use the generic MMEL (as the MEL) shown in the MMEL subsystem. Operators who wish to use this document will be required to develop a usable MEL (which is specific for the operation of part 137) for their own use based on the generic format, providing “M” and “O” items that they develop for their own operation.

B.    Letter of Authorization (LOA). No provisions are currently listed in part 137 for the use of an MEL by part 137 operators. Inspectors may follow the same MEL approval process for part 137 operators that is used for part 91 operations (i.e., approval of an MMEL for use as an MEL by means of a LOA). Approval will be granted by issuing template D095 from WebOPSS.

3-4231    PESTICIDE HOTLINE. The following hotlines are available for answering pesticide questions:

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A.    National Pesticide Telecommunications Network. The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network operates a toll-free hotline, 1-800-858-PEST (7378), staffed Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Pacific Time (PT). Qualified personnel are available to answer questions about pesticides. Information can be obtained about treatment by a physician after contamination or suspected contamination. The location of the nearest poison control center, cleanup of a pesticide spill, and other related information is also available on the Internet at http://npic.orst.edu/index.html.

B.    National Capital Poison Center. The National Capital Poison Center is an independent, private, not-for-profit organization affiliated with The George Washington University Medical Center. It is certified by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Their 24-hour telephone guidance for poisoning emergencies is provided free of charge by Certified Specialists in Poison Information, with backup by board‑certified physician toxicologists. The emergency telephone number is 1-800-222-1222. For nonemergency general information, contact your local poison control center or visit http://www.poison.org.

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C.    Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (CHEMTREC). CHEMTREC offers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week emergency phone service. In the event of an incident or accident involving pesticides, CHEMTREC is able to provide emergency response information pertaining to chemical spills. In emergency situations call 1-800-424-9300. For nonemergency general information or referrals, call 1-800-262-8200. Nonemergency telephones are staffed Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Eastern Time (ET). They also maintain a website at https://www.chemtrec.com.

3-4232    COORDINATION WITH OTHER AGENCIES. The application of economic poisons, either by surface vehicle or aerial applicator involves regulation by Federal, state, and local authorities. Some of these are listed below:

A.    Federal Authority. At the Federal level, there are the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in cases involving national parks or preservations, the Department of the Interior.

B.    State Authority. Additionally, each state has requirements for the purchase, application, and disposal of chemicals used in agricultural operations. Each state has testing and licensing requirements that each pesticide applicator must complete before being allowed to operate within that state. This test may be administered by the state lead agency (usually the Agriculture Department).

C.    Inspector Concerns. Inspectors are primarily concerned with flight operations associated with the application of economic poisons. It is impractical for each inspector to become thoroughly familiar with all facets of agrichemical application and regulation.

1)    Questions concerning the handling, mixing, application ratios, or expiration dates of specific chemicals should be addressed to the state agency governing these areas.
2)    Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors should become familiar with the personnel or state agencies responsible for the regulation and oversight of the aerial application of chemicals. The expertise of these individuals and agencies can assist the inspector in the certification, inspection, and surveillance of agricultural aircraft operators.
3)    All economic poisons must be identified and labeled. If an inspector encounters a chemical spill or economic poison during an accident investigation or an inspection, they can obtain important information from the container label, including recommended container disposal and the name of the chemical company. This may not be available at the accident site and coordination with the mixing and loading facility may be necessary.

3-4233    OPERATING RULES. While the operating rules for agricultural aircraft are specified in part 137 subpart C, the following are some additional considerations inspectors should consider:

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A.    Shoulder Harness. During inspection for initial certification and during site visits, the shoulder harness specified in § 137.31(b) should be inspected for proper installation, preferably by an Airworthiness inspector, unless otherwise exempted.

B.    Violations of §§ 137.37 and 137.39. In cases involving alleged violations of §§ 137.37 and 137.39, the inspector will seek the assistance of the state agriculture authority in establishing proof, such as residue testing, of such violation. The inspector may alternatively seek assistance from the county agent or equivalent representative of the USDA, or the EPA. In certain violation cases involving alleged injury or hazard to the health of persons, the inspector will request assistance from the proper authorities.

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C.    Personnel Duties and Responsibilities. Operators must inform flight and ground personnel (including visual observers (VO) used in UAS operations) of their duties when performing agricultural operations. A record of each crewmember’s duty assignment, date of assignment or termination of duty, and a signed statement by the crewmember that they have been advised of their duties, will show compliance with the requirements of § 137.41(a).

D.    Proof of Property Interest. The private agricultural aircraft operator may be required to show the deed or agricultural use lease pertaining to the property where the application work is performed. (Refer to § 137.35(c).)

1)    For the purposes of this 14 CFR, any property interest should be evidenced by a legal, written instrument.
2)    The term “property interest in the crop” means bona fide legal interest, not one which was created for the purpose of avoiding the requirements of part 137. For example, a tenant farmer living on rented land, growing the crop and sharing the proceeds with the owner, would normally have a bona fide property interest in the crop.
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E.    Authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC). Operators of manned aircraft must have ATC authorization when conducting dispensing or other agricultural operations (not including flights to and from a dispensing area) within the lateral boundaries of a surface area of Class D airspace designated for an airport. Operators may contact the ATC facility by aircraft radio, in person, or by telephone for receipt of the authorization. If operating a restricted category aircraft near a busy airport where passenger transport operations are conducted, a waiver or special operating limitations issued by the Administrator may be required. (Refer to part 91, § 91.313(e).) UAS operations must be conducted in accordance with part 107 (if less than 55 pounds) and/or the C&L of their exemption, waiver, and the Certificate of Authorization (CoA), if held.

F.    Deviation from Airport Traffic Patterns. Pilots of agricultural aircraft may deviate from airport traffic patterns with the authorization of the control tower. At airports without control towers, the pilot may deviate from the traffic pattern if:

1)    Prior coordination is made with the airport management. Written confirmation is not required.
2)    Deviations from the traffic pattern must be limited to agricultural aircraft operations.
3)    Landings and takeoffs should be made from runways or other areas of the airport so designated by airport management.
4)    The aircraft must at all times remain clear of and give way to aircraft conforming to the traffic pattern.
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5)    If the operator is conducting operations with a UAS, that operator must act in accordance with part 107 and/or the C&L in their exemption, waiver, and CoA.
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G.    Minimum Safe Altitudes—Other Than Congested Areas. Section 137.49 permits operations at altitudes contrary to § 91.119, provided such operations are conducted without creating a hazard to persons or property on the surface and are in conjunction with aerial application activities. However, flights between dispensing operations must comply with the provisions of § 91.119. For example, the pilot of an agricultural aircraft dispenses an economic poison on a field adjacent to a farmhouse. The pilot may operate less than 500 feet above the surface and closer than 500 feet to the house provided the house and its occupants are not exposed to undue hazards from the aircraft or the chemicals. However, when flying to the dispensing area or returning after application, the aircraft must maintain § 91.119 requirements, unless when operating a UAS. When operating a UAS, the operation must be in accordance with part 107 or exemptions, waivers, or CoAs held.

H.    Considerations for Congested Area Determination. The term “congested area” has been applied on a case-by-case basis since it was first used. No precise mathematical or geographic definition has been developed. However, some guidelines have been developed to assist in interpretation:

1)    The purpose of the rule is to provide minimum safe altitudes for flight and to provide adequate protection to persons on the ground. In past cases the following areas were determined to be congested:

    Three houses near an intersection,

    The campus of a university,

    A crowded beach area along a highway, and

    A boys’ camp where numerous people were on the docks and the shore.

2)    The presence of people is important to the determination of whether an area is congested. A group of unoccupied buildings would not be considered a congested area.
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3-4234    LETHAL DOSE FOR 50 PERCENT OF TEST SUBJECTS (LD50) INDEX OF AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS. Chemicals may be toxic if encountered in excess of normal amounts. Agricultural chemicals in common use may be toxic to humans as well as to the insects, animals, and plants being controlled. The lethal dose for 50 percent of test subjects, commonly referred to as LD50, is the index that shows the comparative toxicity of the various chemicals and is available for the information and use of inspectors engaged in the certification and surveillance of agricultural aircraft operations. LD50 means a dose of substance that produces death in 50 percent of a population of experimental animals. It is usually expressed as milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight. The higher the LD50 value, the lower the toxicity and the safer the chemical. For example, a chemical with an LD50 index of 15,000 is far less toxic than one with an index of 15.

A.    Organic Phosphates. One group of chemical compounds in agricultural use is organic phosphates (sometimes called organophosphates), derived from phosphoric acid. Some examples are parathion, phosdrin, and malathion. These are generally the most toxic of all pesticides and, therefore, pose the greatest hazard to those handling or dispensing them.

B.    Cumulative Toxic Effects of Organic Phosphates. Nearly all pesticides can have a cumulative effect; that is, symptoms of poisoning occur gradually over a period of timeand can be confused with symptoms of other illnesses.

3-4235    HAZARDOUS MATERIAL (HAZMAT) TRAINING. Common sense in the presence of agricultural chemicals is very important; therefore, inspectors should receive the following training before exposure to agricultural operators:

A.    General Aviation (GA) Operations Indoctrination. This course deals, in part, with job functions which include agricultural certification areas and precautions concerning chemical toxicity.

B.    Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certification and Surveillance (21609). This course provides instruction on the recognition of toxic chemicals, their labeling, and necessary precautions when performing job functions associated with agricultural operations.

C.    Other Sources. Other FAA courses include information on hazmat recognition and precautions. FAA Order 8020.11, Aircraft Accident and Incident Notification, Investigation, and Reporting, contains considerable information of general use to FAA inspectors regarding hazmat. Also, most county agricultural commissions or similar state and local organizations offer “mini” courses on hazardous chemicals and precautions to be taken.

3-4236    POSSIBLE HEALTH HAZARDS DURING AGRICULTURAL AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION. Inspectors are normally required to place aircraft accident investigation duties above all other job functions. Because of this priority, it is not uncommon for an inspector to depart for the scene of an accident immediately after notification. In most instances, this is normal and proper. However, when agricultural aircraft are involved, such action could prove to be dangerous.

A.    Preinvestigation Information. The inspector who departs for the scene of an agricultural aircraft accident without first finding out the nature of the pesticide, its hazards, and necessary precautions could be exposed to a serious health hazard. In this type of aircraft accident, a large amount of chemical may be concentrated in a small area,increasing the hazard to investigating inspectors.

B.    Inspector Precautions. The following precautions are recommended regarding accident investigations which may involve agricultural materials:

1)    Determine from the operator or persons for whom the operation was being conducted the type, name, and EPA registration number of the material involved.
2)    With the above information, call the nearest EPA office, poison control center, local agricultural commission officials, or the Pesticide Hotline to ask what precautions to take if an agricultural chemical is present. If advised to wear special gear such as protective clothing, goggles, gloves, or breathing equipment, ask how long it will take for the harmful characteristics of the material to dissipate.
3)    Follow all instructions to the letter even if it means that the on-scene investigation has to be postponed for several days.
4)    If special protective gear or other precautions are needed, ensure that local Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) are advised. Suggest that the scene of the accident be secured for the length of time special gear or precautions are needed.

C.    Coordination with LEAs. It is especially important that the inspector relay all the information received from EPA or a poison control center to the appropriate LEA. In most cases, Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) have already been at the accident scene and may need medical treatment.

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3-4237    PROFESSIONAL AERIAL APPLICATORS’ SUPPORT SYSTEM (PAASS). PAASS is a program conducted by the National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation (NAAREF) designed to increase aviation safety and mitigate drift incidents within the agricultural aviation industry through education and training. In addition to providing other education and training mediums, PAASS offers training programs held in conjunction with many of the state agricultural aviation association conventions throughout the country.

A.    PAASS Information. For more information on the PAASS program, contact NAAREF at 1440 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, 202-546-5722.

B.    Self-Regulated Application and Flight Efficiency (SAFE). Some regions are still holding programs and seminars for recurrent training, evaluating, and fine tuning procedures and techniques for controlling and mitigating spray drift. The program, known as SAFE, may be conducted by state organizations as well as the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA).

C.    FAA Attendance. While no formal attendance at PAASS functions is required by FSDO inspectors, field personnel may find it helpful to visit these events when they are announced and held within the area of geographical responsibility of the FSDO. When flight operations are conducted at events organized by PAASS, waivers are not normally needed. In the past, during events attended by FAA representatives, no problems were observed with respect to maneuvering or nonparticipating aircraft. Operations at the clinics have been conducted in a highly organized and safe manner.

D.    NAAA Handbook. NAAA publishes a handbook which outlines, in detail, the concept of Operation SAFE and how to organize and conduct a clinic. Copies of this handbook are available from NAAA, 1440 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, 202-546-5722.

E.    FAA Recommendations. Based on the experience gained in the initial sessions of Operation SAFE and PAASS, the following recommendations are provided:

1)    No waiver is necessary for flight operations or maneuvers involved.
2)    A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) may be necessary if the operations are conducted at a public-use airport. The wording should alert the transient pilot that “simulated agricultural dispensing operations are being conducting alongside runway [number].”

F.    FAA Comments. FAA comments and recommendations regarding the conduct of Operation SAFE sessions, the contents of the NAAA handbook, or the PAASS program should bedirected to FAA, Commercial Operations Branch, AFS-820, 800 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20591.

3-4238    RENEWAL, AMENDMENT, AND CANCELLATION. An Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate is effective until it is surrendered, suspended, or revoked. A lost or destroyed certificate may be replaced by the CHDO using the same information that was on the original certificate. The replacement certificate should have the word “duplicate” annotated on the front of the certificate. A copy of the duplicate certificate should be retained in the CHDO’s files. In the case of a destroyed certificate, the operator should send any remains of the certificate to the POI with a written request that the certificate be replaced. The operator, or an agent for service authorized to act for the operator, must sign the request. The certificate will be signed by the district office manager.

A.    Renewals. Not applicable to part 137 certificates.

B.    Amendments. An agricultural aircraft operator may apply to amend the Operating Certificate.

1)    If an operator desires to have the prohibition against dispensing economic poisons added to or removed from the Operating Certificate, the operator should apply using FAA Form 8710-3, Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate Application, in the same manner as for an original certificate. The same procedure should be followed in applying for other changes on the Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate. Upon approval, an amended certificate will be prepared with the same certificate number and a new effective date. The amended certificate will be exchanged for the superseded certificate. The operator’s enhanced Vital Information Database (eVID) file must be updated to reflect any new information that may be on the certificate. If the application for amendment is denied, the applicant shall be advised in writing of the reason for denial (see Figure 3-143, Letter Advising Applicant of Reasons for Denying Amendments).
2)    The FAA may also amend an Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate as a result of actions taken under Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C.) and 14 CFR part 13.
3)    If a certificate is amended due to an address change or a change in the CHDO, the date of original issuance is retained on the amended certificate.
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4)    A change of the certificate holder’s legal name without a change of ownership does not require the issuance of a new certificate and certificate number. This does not include a change to adoing business as (DBA) name.

C.    Cancellation. The FAA may suspend or revoke an Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate.

1)    In the case of a voluntary surrender (e.g., when the operator decides to cease agricultural operations or to have the certificate held by the FAA pending enforcement proceedings), the operator must as soon as possible return the certificate by mail (registered preferred) or in person to the district office having jurisdiction over the certificate.
2)    In the case of suspension or revocation of the certificate (e.g., as a result of an FAA enforcement action), the operator must as soon as possible return the certificate in a manner agreed to by the regional counsel.
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3)    If the operator fails to meet the certification requirements of § 137.19(d) (e.g., does not have at least one aircraft equipped for agricultural operations), the FAA may revoke or suspend the certificate until the operator meets certification requirements. Please note, an operator utilizing only UAS would have been granted an exemption to § 137.19(d) and, therefore, could operate without meeting this part of the rule by having a UAS equipped for agricultural operation. Discretion must be allowed if the aircraft is temporarily out of service while undergoing maintenance, replacement, off season, etc. An “aircraft equipped for agricultural operations” may vary widely. An operator may have ten AT-802Fs configured for dispensing fire retardant and one C-150 used for directing the fire bombers and marking areas for them. If the operator sold all of the AT-802Fs and retained the C-150 for engaging in activities directly affecting forest preservation, they would still have one aircraft equipped for agricultural operations and should be allowed to continue holding the Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate as long as dispensing or nondispensing operations are being conducted.

Figure 3-143.  Letter Advising Applicant of Reasons for Denying Amendments

[FAA Letterhead]

[Date]

[Operator’s name and address]

Dear [operator’s name]:

We are returning your application for amendment of your Commercial Agricultural Operator Certificate. Your request to add the dispensing of economic poisons is denied because your personnel, [personnel names], failed to meet the knowledge requirements of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 137, § 137.19 regarding economic poisons. We will be happy to accept a new application and reexamine [personnel names] after these deficiencies have been corrected.

Sincerely,

[District office manager’s signature]

RESERVED. Paragraphs 3-4239 through 3-4255.