New FAA regulations require landowners to mark any towers between 50 and 200 ft. on their property, as well as include the towers in a new database the FAA is developing.
Previously, towers under 200 ft. were not subject to any federal marking requirements, according to officials with the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The new requirements are due to provisions in the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
Under the provisions in these laws, meteorological evaluation towers (METs) meeting the requirements stipulated in the bills must be both marked and logged in to the FAA database. Communication towers of the same size have the option to be either be marked or logged in the FAA database.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires this database to be functional by October 2019. The FAA is also finalizing the marking requirements for these towers, but they are expected to be similar to the standards found in FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L.
“From a safety perspective, being transparent about the existence of low-level obstacles is vital to agricultural pilots and other aircraft flying in the airspace between zero and 400 ft., such as police and first responder aircraft, aerial firefighters and pipeline patrol pilots,” NAAA officials said.
The FAA’s Digital Obstacle File (DOF) provides information about potential obstacles in pilots’ flight path before they take off. Once pilots download the FAA’s Digital Obstacle File or Daily DOF, they can import it into Geographic Information Systems applications, such as agricultural aviation applications.
FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L – on obstruction marking and lighting – details the ways different types of obstructions may be marked. The document provides specifications on lighting systems, colors and light intensities. As an alternative to lighting, the document also explains tools for the “unlighted marking” of obstructions. This includes paint colors and patterns, as well as specifications for guy wire sleeves and high-visibility spherical markers.
“Aerial applicators have been at the forefront of ensuring a safe airspace for low-flying pilots for years,” said NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore. “We encourage farmers, landowners and tower companies to familiarize themselves with the dangers of unmarked, low-level towers. Towers in and around productive farmland may prevent a crop from being treated by air if it is too difficult or unsafe for an ag pilot to treat.”
Association officials note that since 2008 there have been 22 tower-related agricultural aircraft accidents resulting in nine fatalities. The number of accidents and fatalities is even higher when other low-level operations, such as EMS-Medevac operations, are included.