The FBI is asking all U.S. agricultural-use airplane operators to be on high alert for any suspicious behavior as they fly their crop dusters, for fear that terrorists will try to use them to spread chemical or biological warfare agents. ?The FBI has contacted us and asked us to sensitize our members to any potential threats,? says National Agricultural Aviation Association Executive Director James Callan.
A warning posted on the association?s website says: ?Members should be vigilant to any suspicious activity relative to the use, training in, or acquisition of dangerous chemicals or airborne application of same, including threats, unusual purchases, suspicious behavior by employees or customers, and unusual contacts with the public. Members should report
Callan says the FBI has not told him of any specific threat, and he believes the chances of an agricultural plane being used in a terrorist plot are remote. Special licenses, different from a general aviation license, are required to pilot the planes, which carry large hoppers that can hold a variety of pesticides and fungicides used in treating everything from potatoes to cotton.
There are about 3,000 crop dusters in use in the United States. This is the season when crop dusters do the most flying, since crops from the West Coast to the East are ready for chemical treatments.
All privately owned and operated aircraft, including crop dusters, were grounded after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There are more than 200,000 private planes in the U.S., and they were allowed to resume operations this week, with tight restrictions.
Private pilots are still not allowed to fly under visual flight rules, according to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association. Visual flight rules do not require planes to be under constant tracking by ground control. The majority of the 132,000 takeoffs and landings of private planes each day are conducted under visual flight rules, said the association?s spokesman, Warren Morningstar.
The association, which along with Callan?s group, is working to restore full flight to the industry. It said in a news release that federal authorities have told them that ?threats to our national security? may still exist. Over the weekend, there were instances across the country in which pilots of private aircraft attempted to resume flying and were intercepted by F-16 fighter jets and forced to land.
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