Emergency rules designed to protect low-flying aircraft from towers used to measure and record wind speed were recently adopted by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. The emergency rules must be approved by the Governor before they become effective.
The emergency rules are a result of House Bill 3348 that was passed by state lawmakers last session. The bill, authored by Sen. Charles Wyrick and Rep. Don Armes, directed the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission to promulgate rules requiring the marking of anemometer towers to ensure their visibility to pilots, thus minimizing the risk of collisions.
“Anytime we have the opportunity to minimize the risk of serious injury or death among the flying public, we should take the necessary actions to do that,” said Vic Bird, director of the Aeronautics Commission. “These rules will provide pilots such as crop dusters and emergency medical personnel with an added layer of safety.”
Anemometer towers, commonly referred to as METs (meteorological evaluation towers), can reach heights of just under 200 feet and are regularly used by the wind power industry to help determine locations for future wind farm development. Towers under 200 feet in height are not regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and can therefore be left unmarked and very difficult for pilots to see during the day.
“HB3348 was in no way meant to stifle the growth of wind farms in our state. The wind industry plays an important role in bringing alternative energy solutions to the state as well as creating jobs. We appreciate the dialogue and input both the wind and agriculture industries provided during this whole process,” Bird said.
The new Oklahoma law provides that individuals or companies who want to erect anemometer towers will need to mark them properly as required by the Commission’s rules. The towers will have to be painted in their entirety with seven alternating bands of aviation orange and white, and marker balls and safety sleeves will have to be attached to the guy wires. Towers erected prior to the date the Commission adopted the rules will have until Nov. 13, 2015, to comply with the rules.
Stronger calls for improved markings of anemometer towers have increased recently from the National Transportation Safety Board and agriculture community following several deaths involving crop dusters. One such incident occurred in the Oklahoma Panhandle in the summer of 2013 and another in California, which resulted in a $6.7 million wrongful-death settlement. In both cases, the pilots collided with towers that were not marked in a manner that made them readily visible. This prompted the NTSB in 2013 to write the governors of every state and territory urging them to take action and require the marking of the towers so that risks of collisions with the flying public would be minimized.
In addition to promulgating rules for the proper marking of anemometer towers, the Commission must also create a database to track the location of all such towers. Owners of existing towers or those planning to erect towers must provide the Commission with the location and height of those towers within a specified amount of time. Failure to provide such information or comply with the marking requirements will result in fines ranging from $100 to $2,000.