May 29, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on May 28 signed a revised bill regulating the appearance of meteorological evaluation towers (METs) in the state that are less than 200 feet tall. The governor vetoed the original bill, Senate Bill 1195, on April 28, saying in her message that the bill went beyond the state’s existing airport zoning and the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Acts, according to press reports.
Fallin felt that the issue of METs could be better handled with an administrative rule and civil remedies, rather than criminal penalties. The bill was introduced by state Sen. Charles Wyrick and state Rep. Doug Cox.
Wyrick met with Fallin’s staff to find out exactly why the bill was vetoed and how they could work it out. The decision was made to resuscitate House Bill 3348 and modify the language into something that the governor could sign.
The revised bill requires towers used for measuring wind speed, as part of the wind power generation process, to be marked, painted, and flagged for clear visibility if it is at least 50 feet tall. The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission will be responsible for promulgating the specific rules for these towers, including marking as well as notification requirements for building or removal of the towers. Penalties were removed from the bill.
The FAA has the authority to review only structures above 200 feet agl per 14 CFR 77.9. Given that, the agency does not conduct an aeronautical study of these structures, nor does it have any federal authority to regulate them in any way. Because the FAA has no authority over METs, they also do not get published on aeronautical charts.
The National Transportation Safety Board published a safety recommendation in 2013 to encourage states to mitigate risks to low-altitude aviation operations by requiring that METs be marked. The recommendation came from the investigations of three accidents in which airplanes inadvertently collided with these types of towers, fatally injuring four people. One accident was in Oklahoma on Aug. 5, 2013.
In that accident, an agricultural aircraft collided with an MET southwest of Balko, killing the 34-year-old pilot and destroying the aircraft. The pilot was going to be spraying a field about two miles northeast of the accident site and descended down to 150 feet agl to prepare.
AOPA believes that the combination of properly marking the towers and creating a database with the exact locations of these towers under the authority of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission would make pilots more aware of these obstacles and prevent them from getting themselves in trouble, said AOPA Central Southwest Regional Manager Yasmina Platt. “We wonder if the Oklahoma accident could have been prevented if these initiatives would have been in place given the plane, pilot, and weather were all in perfect shape just prior to its impact with the MET. It is certainly worth trying and important to prevent any future accidents of this type.”
“AOPA thanks Senator Wyrick for his championing of this important bill. As the son of an agricultural pilot, he had personal interest in this bill passing, understanding the implications for general aviation pilots. The bill wouldn’t have made it as far as it did without his help.”
As the wind energy industry continues to expand, AOPA also anticipates an increase in the deployment of MET. “METs pose a safety hazard to aviation operations, particularly low-level operations, such as agricultural and helicopter flights,” said Platt. “This is an opportunity to be proactive and prevent MET-induced accidents from happening in the future.”
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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