Aerial mosquito flights have safe record, but risky business



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Posted on August 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 21 at 8:57 AM

DALLAS - It's a strange sight to see such low-flying planes buzz neighborhoods.

"Our planes fly about 300 feet above the ground," said Laura McGowan, Clarke mosquito control. "They fly 172 miles per hour and they can cover a thousand-foot swath each time they go past."

But at that altitude, tall buildings and mobile phone towers can sometimes pose dangers.

The FAA and Homeland Security are both aware of Dallas County's aerial mosquito spraying intended to address the spread of West Nile virus.

The pilots fly precise patterns, and sometimes having to jog around tall landmarks. Even if low-flying planes are directly above, they are not always targeting what's below.

"If you see a plane overhead, it probably means we're spraying up to two miles away," McGowan said.

Though Dallas County and its cities hired Clarke mosquito control for the aerial spraying, that company charters planes from Dynamic Aviation, located in Virgina.

"For as many years as we've worked with Dynamic Aviation, there have been no incidents while Clarke has worked with Dynamic," McGowan said.

But Dynamic Aviation has had at least two deadly accidents working for others.

One in Tampa in 2006, according to records from the National Transportation Safety Board. Online news reports documented another deadly crash that happened in the South American country of Guyana in 2008.

Still, Dynamic has flown low in major urban areas across the country, and despite the dangers big cities like Dallas, the company appears to have has accumulated a pretty safe record domestically.