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Crop dusters airborne after ban lifted

September 25, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

A ban on crop-dusting flights was lifted by the federal government as of 12:05 this morning after a one-day grounding ordered Sunday was extended to Monday in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Crop-dusting aircraft were grounded nationwide because the federal government feared they could be used to distribute chemical or biological weapons. Crop dusters were previously grounded Sept. 11 and again Sept. 16

"We're back up," said James Callan, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

Byron Nelson, manager of Frontier Aviation in Calexico, confirmed he had one crop duster in the air this morning.

Callan stopped short of saying whether crop dusters would be grounded again but said he hopes there are no more threats. If there are no more threats, he doesn't see any reason crop dusters can't stay in the air.

Callan said it would be unlikely a typical pilot would be able to use crop-dusting aircraft because the craft require specific training.

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County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber agreed.

"These aircraft are not something an average pilot can get into and operate," Leimgruber said. "They are in secured facilities and specifically designed for application of fertilizer and insecticide."

Leimgruber understands the need for the restrictions but said when crop dusters are grounded for even a day, it hurts farmers.

Farmers cannot afford to have crop dusters grounded, said Leimgruber. This is the time of year new seedlings are emerging and crops are being transplanted, he said.

"The insects eat every day. They must be controlled or a farmer will lose the crop," Leimgruber said. "Some of these beetles feed on emerging seedlings and in one day can eat 100 times their body weight."

"There are 450,000 acres in Imperial Valley," Leimgruber said. "If a crop duster was taken illegally, it would be known in seconds."

Leimgruber, a third-generation farmer, said it is tough to predict the economic impact of grounding the crop dusters but it could be a problem for farmers.

Nelson also said it is too early to predict the economic damage caused by the groundings. He said winter crops such as sugar beets are the most vulnerable.

"We're trying to do the right thing for the country and for the crops," Nelson said. "But I'm sure someone, somewhere, will be hurt by this."

For the most up to date notices, pilots can call 1-800-WX-BRIEF.

Or on the Web, go to:

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association at http://38.200.9.137/

or the National Agricultural Aviation Association at http://www.agaviation.org/

Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or la_mitchel1@yahoo.com

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