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By Stefan Krause, Germany (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

What is the exact dialogue a crop duster pilot will have, if any, with ATC on a routine flight?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Are you wanting to know everything from startup to shutdown, or just part of the flight? Also, what country or area are you interested in? $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Jun 6, 2016 at 21:39
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ What? Crop dusters with radios? What is this world coming to? Hmm, maybe I'm a little out of date. The last time I was in a crop duster was in 1956. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Jun 6, 2016 at 23:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The current answer and its comment show that this is actually possible to answer this question easily. VTR. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Sep 11, 2016 at 10:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Typically, no communication will take place with ATC, because most crop dusting will take place in uncontrolled airspace, or at least outside of airspace requiring communication with ATC. However, it is not uncommon for a crop duster to do some traffic advisory communication over CTAF if operating out of a public use airport. In my flights in the vicinity of crop dusters and crop dusting operations, I have heard CTAF traffic calls on a few occasions, at what I would estimate to be 10% of operations at public use airports. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Sep 11, 2016 at 13:10

1 Answer 1


The actual operation of a crop duster airplane will almost invariably happen in uncontrolled airspace. In the US, controlled airspace does not start until 700, 1200, or in a very few select areas 14,500 feet above ground level; below that the airspace is Class G, uncontrolled. Crop dusters operate at a few hundred feet above ground level or lower (a quick google shows altitude as low as a few tens of feet AGL). Even if they wanted to talk to ATC at those altitudes, radio reception would be all but impossible.

When not actually working on a field crop dusters must adhere to the standard minimum altitude rules (500 feet AGL over non-congested areas, or 1000 feet above the tallest obstruction within 2000 feet over congested areas). But even if they enter Class E airspace, which is controlled, they do not have to contact ATC unless they want to receive an instrument flight rules clearance.

There are three times when a crop duster would have a dialog with ATC: when they want to come into a controlled airport to land, when they want to transition the airspace close to a controlled airport (where the controlled airspace extends to the surface), or when they want to operate over a field within the controlled airspace near an airport. For the first two situations they would communicate with the tower just like any other aircraft; for the last situation it might sound like this:

Duster: Podunk Tower, hello, Air Tractor 123AT is eight miles to the east, we'd like to operate over a field inside the Class Delta airspace two miles east of Podunk Airport.
Tower: Air Tractor 123AT, Podunk Tower, the Podunk altimeter 2992, proceed as requested and remain east of runway 18/36.
Duster: Proceed as requested, remain east of 18/36, Air Tractor 3AT.


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