A new development in tower-aviation safety
By Michael Higgs
The FCC has amended Part 87 of its rules to allow for the use of audio visual warning systems (AVWS) to address the problem of aircraft-tower collisions.
An AVWS is an integrated air-hazard notification system that activates obstruction lighting and transmits audible warnings to aircraft on a potential collision course with an obstacle, such as a power line, wind turbine, or tower. The system consists of a radar, VHF radio, and obstruction lighting controls.
When the radar detects an incoming aircraft, the system activates the obstruction lighting. If the aircraft continues toward the structure — entering into a second warning zone — the VHF radio transmits an audible warning to the pilot describing the hazard.
Implementing such a system can save site owners money, headaches and heartaches. Money is saved over the long term by reduced energy costs — obstruction lights that would burn or flash every day after sunset only turn on in the presence of aircraft with an AVWS system.
“Not in my back yard” opponents (NIMBYs) that pitch a fit over proposed antenna sites or modifications will have one less complaint to lodge at zoning hearings, reducing headaches for site owners. And avian enthusiasts everywhere can rejoice in the knowledge that migratory bird populations will enjoy increased protection and safety without the attractive nuisance formerly caused by ever-present nighttime lights.
Section 17.47(a) of the FCC rules requires daily “observation” of the lighting of FCC-registered antenna structures, either visually or by use of an alarm or other indicator noting the proper operation of obstruction lighting. While the commission adopted PCIA’s recommended course of action in declining to mandate automatic monitoring, the alternative is somewhat comical.
According to the FCC, “An owner that believes that it can visually monitor an AVWS-equipped antenna structure’s lighting without automatic monitoring (such as by flying an aircraft into the warning zone every day) may do so to comply with Section 17.47. We emphasize, however, that regardless of how an antenna structure owner carries out its inspections, the owner is responsible, if the lights fail to function.”
While the fines can be steep, they pale in comparison to the fallout from an aircraft-tower “incident” that results from improper lighting.
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