Last July, NAAA was successful in pushing for President Obama to sign a bill
requiring the marking of towers between 50 and 200 feet, as has been enacted in several states such as Texas and Colorado. This article provides information about this law and the FAA’s rulemaking process.
The bill, titled the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016,”
is now public law having been signed by the president but does not go into effect until the FAA drafts a regulation. The legally mandated deadline for that regulation is July 2017, but the FAA oftentimes misses its deadlines. Once the regulation is finalized by the FAA, towers constructed before the date on which regulations take effect will have one year to comply with the regulation. All towers constructed on or after that date must be marked before they are erected.
The law mandates that the regulations the FAA issues shall ensure that a tower meeting the following requirements be marked:
- Between 50 and 200 feet tall;
- Diameter at the above-ground base is 10 feet wide or less;
- Have accessory facilities on which equipment (such as a sensor) is mounted; and
- Located outside the boundaries of an incorporated city or town or is on land that is undeveloped or used for agricultural purposes.
If a tower meets each of these standards, it must be marked unless the tower:
- Is adjacent to a house, barn, electric utility station, or other building;
- Is within the curtilage of a farmstead;
- Supports electric utility transmission or distribution lines;
- Is a wind-powered electrical generator with a rotor blade radius that exceeds six feet; or
- Is a street light.
The law also requires the FAA to establish a database that contains the location and height of each marked tower. The database will only be accessible for use by those who will use it for aviation safety purposes.
The FAA will create a rule to implement the regulation mandated by law. The FAA will first release a proposed rule. NAAA and other groups will comment on this proposal, and the FAA will take those comments into consideration. It will then release a final rule that implements the regulation. NAAA will push the agency to work as quickly as possible in a manner to ensure safety for low-level aviators.
There are also many terms that must be defined such as “agricultural purposes,” “building,” “routine,” etc. that will affect the extent of the regulation. NAAA will advocate to the FAA to define these terms in ways that ensure safety in the low-level aviation skies.
Opposition from Tower Industries
Communication tower industry groups have expressed concerns to NAAA and congressional staff about the law because they worry that the rules that are promulgated by the FAA will be costly for them to mark and prohibit them from complying in a timely fashion. They also expressed concerns about fatalities associated with painters climbing and painting towers.
These industries are attempting to repeal the tower marking law in Congress and, if unsuccessful, will push the FAA to tailor the rule to leave unmarked as many communications towers as possible.
NAAA is working with these industries (as well as allies in the low-level general aviation field like the Helicopter Association International and aviation emergency responders) with hopes we will reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both the tower and aviation industries.