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911 Callers Complain about Crop Dusting Aircraft
(April 26, 2012)

Complaints about Crop Dusting Agricultural Aircraft

On April 26, 2012, the Sheriff’s 911 Communications Center received several complaints from citizens about the low altitude and activities of Agricultural Aircraft (Crop Duster(s) flying around Needham Township as well as within the City of Franklin. 

Regulations covering aircraft are Federal Law rules and regulations, and are not under the jurisdiction or the authority of the Sheriff’s Office or any other local law enforcement.  This concern must be handled by the Federal Aviation Administration, or the F.A.A.

Here is what the rules declare: Federal Regulations under 14 C.F.R. §137.49 specifies minimum altitude requirements for agricultural aircraft operating over “other than congested areas” and §137.51 regulates operations over congested areas. 

In “other than congested areas,” Federal Rules state that the aircraft may be operated under 500 feet above the surface and “closer than 500 feet to persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures.” However, if the area is deemed a “congested area,” the aircraft must be operated at “altitudes required for the proper accomplishment of the agricultural aircraft operation.”

According to §137.51, the crop duster must operate “with maximum safety to persons and property on the surface and the crop duster must have obtained prior written approval from the FAA and notice of the intended operation must be given to the public. Further, the crop duster must submit a plan to the FAA that considers the flight obstructions and plans for a possible emergency landing.

It is true that the FAA regulations never specifically defined “congested area.” However, a related case has been litigated in the Court system, and an appellate court made a clear ruling: Federal regulations governing crop dusting may come into play when crop-dusting occurs in areas where even a minimal amount of people may be located.  (Folk v. Sturgell, No. 08-2155, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 8352 (4 th Cir. Apr. 22, 2010)

So what can you do?  If the crop duster is flying at a dangerously low altitude over a “congested area,” do NOT call 911.  Instead, you might choose to file a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration’s FLIGHT STANDARDS DISTRICT OFFICE by calling 317-837-4400 between 7:30am and 4:00pm on weekdays.

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