Agricultural pilots, or aerial applicators, are commercial pilots trained and certified for operating a specialized fixed-wing or rotary aircraft for agricultural purposes, commonly referred to as crop dusting. The specialized aircraft carry fertilizer, insecticide, or other chemicals that the agricultural (AG) pilot sprays onto forests, crops, or other areas as they fly overhead in a pre-planned pattern. Ag pilots may also spray fire retardant onto forest fires.
There are several job risks for ag pilots. In addition to all the normal risks associated with flying, ag pilots must fly close to the ground and in proximity to obstructions and hazards such as power lines and trees. In addition, the pilot is working with toxic chemicals, and despite taking all possible precautions including wearing protective gear, health risks remain. The work can also be repetitive and tedious because it involves flying set patterns.
Agricultural pilots must be licensed commercial pilots with agricultural flight aviation training and have the necessary state or province required certification. Job candidates should have training and experience in using GPS units, chemical mixing and handling, labeling requirements for agricultural chemicals, and be proficient at operating an air tractor and performing procedural turns.
Most agricultural pilots attend privately operated agricultural flight aviation after they have already earned their private and commercial flight license. The pilot must also have the necessary type rating for the aircraft that the company operates.
Most agricultural spraying is seasonal and occurs during the growing months, or in the case of firefighting, during the dry months of fire season. Some ag pilots follow the growing season from location to location around the country.
Agricultural Pilot: $20,000-$70,000