How To Become an Ag Pilot

Being an Ag Pilot in California requires being an applicator first and a pilot second. An ag pilot’s primary concerns are promoting the health of crops while being aware of surrounding crops, waterways and other sensitive areas that could be harmed by an off target application.

California’s ag pilots must develop skills to handle the specialized ag aircraft. Numerous landings and take-offs, applying at low attitudes and executing high “g” turns with the additional weight of up to 8,000 lbs are daily activities for a professional ag pilot. In addition to the actual flying of the aircraft, an ag pilot must be monitoring Global Position Satellite (GPS) equipment and flow controls to verify that products are being correctly applied. An ag pilot is constantly checking for flight obstructions and any persons that might arrive in proximity to the applications. If individuals enter an application area, the pilot stops the application until they are cleared from the area. Once the area is cleared for applications, the pilot returns to the field and using GPS resumes making the application on the un-applied sections.

California ag pilots are required to be licensed as a commercial pilot with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) including an annual medical certification, as a Pilot applicator with the DPR (Department of Pesticide Regulation), and register annually with the County Ag Commissioner. Maintaining the DPR Pilot license requires earning a minimum of 20 hours of continuing education every two years. These educational sessions focus on current information on product labels, mixing/loading, clean-out procedures and equipment improvements.

Earning these licenses is just the first step in becoming an ag pilot. Due to California’s numerous commodities, urban encroachment, waterways and environmental concerns apprentice ag pilots spend at least two or more seasons working on the ground while the ag aviation operator evaluates the pilots skills, safe handling of pesticides and concern for the environment.

Once an operator is certain that a pilot possesses the necessary attitude and skills, the pilot may be given applications of seed and fertilizer. As a pilot’s aerial skills increase, he/she may earn the opportunity to make applications of crop protection products. Licensed as an Apprentice Pilot with the DPR, all of these applications are made under the direct supervision of an experienced pilot/commercial applicator. After 250 hours of flight time under this supervision, a pilot may take the DPR’s Journeyman Pilot test.

Each year, California’s ag pilots log over 100,000 hours in flight time while maintaining a high level of safety and compliance with regulations. They provide an important service to our $30 billion ag economy by timely and efficiently applying seed and fertilizer and controlling pest infestation, our public’s health by controlling mosquito populations and our resources by suppressing fires. Aerial Application benefits all Californian’s through safe and timely applications.


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