Last year, we wrote about legislation adopted by Congress telling the FAA to adopt rules to require the lighting of towers less than 200 feet tall located in rural areas. That legislation was designed to protect aircraft used for agricultural purposes like crop-dusting from collisions with such towers. The law surprised most of the broadcast industry as it was slipped into legislation dealing with other issues without any real notice or debate. Many in the communications industry wondered if the costs of implementing this rule was really justified by the harms it prevented. The questions raised by broadcasters and other communications users received support in a blog post on the FCC blog, here, from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who raised questions about whether the facts about communications towers had been fully considered when the legislation was adopted.
His post is certainly worth reading – noting that communications towers between 50 and 200 feet are included in the scope of the legislation requiring this new lighting requirement, while wind turbines and electric towers are not, asking whether this disparate treatment was really justified. He states that as many as 50,000 existing communications towers could fall under the coverage of any rule adopted by the FAA to implement the law. While emphasizing his concern for air safety, the Commissioner urged more review of the need for any new requirements, noting that there appeared to be only 2 accidents last year involving small planes and a communications tower, and it was unclear in either case whether questions of visibility of the tower contributed to those incidents. He suggests a legislative fix or careful consideration of the issues by the FAA before the specific rules implementing the legislation are adopted – a suggestion with which most communications users no doubt agree.