In a recent decision, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau ruled that a tower owner should pay a fine for a single day where the required tower lights were not operational, and where no required monitoring of the tower to discover such outage was taking place. On top of the penalty for the non-working lights, the FCC also fined the owner for the failure to report a change in ownership of the tower. The total fine in the case was $4000 (reduced from an initial fine of $13,000 because of the tower owner’s past record of compliance).
As with any FCC fine, while the fine was for one day of tower light outage, there was more to the story. The FCC inspected the tower after receiving a complaint stating that the lights were out on a day that was almost a month before the inspection – indicating that the outage may have been in place for far longer than the one day revealed by the FCC inspection. The tower owner admitted that the person who was supposed to conduct the required daily inspection of the tower lights had moved from the area in which the tower was located, and the owner did not know exactly when that occurred. The owner did not get someone new to do the inspection until after the FCC inspection. And the tower had no automatic monitoring system to determine if the lights were in fact operational. With these admissions, it seemed clear that there was the potential that there had been a problem for a long time, so perhaps the fine was not unexpected, even though the lights were fixed within hours of the FCC report of the problem, as the issue was a simple one that the tower owner blamed on a careless repair person who had recently visited the site.
In addition, the original complaint indicated that the complainant could not reach the owner listed on the tower registration to notify them of the outage. After the FCC inspection, it became clear that this was because the ownership had changed, and the FCC had not been notified. Had the FCC tower registration information been timely updated when the ownership change occurred, the fine for the unreported change in ownership would not have been issued, and the fine for the light outage might also have been avoided if the owner had been able to respond to the private party’s notification instead of having to wait for the FCC to get involved.
As we have written before, the FCC takes tower issues very seriously, because of the potential threat to safety posed by improperly lit towers. Tower owners need to take this issue very seriously themselves, not only because of the threat of FCC fines, but because of the potential exposure to civil liability should there be an aeronautical accident when the lights are out. If there are lighting problems, they need to be fixed immediately. If they cannot, the FAA needs to be notified so that it can alert airmen to the potential hazard. So inspect those towers regularly, and make sure that issues are promptly reported and corrected when they arise.