The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is blasting FAA headquarters for reversing an Alaskan Region hazard-to-navigation determination regarding a proposed radio tower near Anchorage International Airport.
"The FAA has an absolute responsibility to consider the real-world environment, not just the 'letter of the law,' when making a decision that will affect safety," said Melissa K. Bailey, AOPA director of air traffic services. "This time, even safety concerns voiced by FAA staff were ignored in favor of strict adherence to an inflexible bureaucratic process."
The issue began in 1999 with a proposal to build a 360-foot (497 feet msl) broadcasting tower near Point MacKenzie, less than 10 miles off the end of Runway 14 at Anchorage International. The location is beneath a 1,400-foot "shelf" of Anchorage Class C airspace and close to an existing VFR checkpoint. VFR aircraft often hold there while awaiting special VFR clearances into the Anchorage Class C area.
Local pilots and AOPA pointed out that the tower would threaten a contained area of airspace where a large number of VFR aircraft operate at low altitudes, frequently in marginal weather. Due to special Part 93 flight rules around Anchorage, VFR aircraft inbound to nearby Merrill Field must fly below 600 feet shortly after passing Point MacKenzie.
AOPA has formally opposed the tower.
The FAA's Alaskan Region air traffic manager, well aware of the unique environment around Anchorage, ruled that the tower would be a "hazard to air navigation." (Ironically, a hazard determination doesn't actually stop tower construction. In the case of broadcasting antennas, however, the Federal Communications Commission usually will not issue a construction permit following an FAA hazard determination.)
In his determination, the FAA manager in Alaska noted that while the tower would not technically exceed FAA Part 77 obstruction standards, "this particular situation warrants consideration of the other factors presented. The FAA must make the aeronautical interest the priority consideration.
"FAA regulations are written to handle the normal situation. The situation presented in this case, with the complexity of airspace, mixture of aircraft, and the known high level of low-altitude activity, is anything but normal."
The broadcasting company, unhappy with the Alaskan Region hazard determination, filed a petition for review with FAA headquarters.
The FAA Flight Standards branch in Washington, D.C., advised against reviewing the petition, essentially agreeing with the Alaskan region hazard determination.
But another FAA branch had the final decision authority. The FAA's Airspace and Rules Division (part of Air Traffic Services) stuck to the rulebook and determined the tower didn't meet all hazard criteria. Overruling the Alaskan Region and Flight Standards, they gave the green light for tower construction.
In a letter to the director of the FAA's Air Traffic Services, AOPA asked for another review.
"Your office has ignored the safety concerns of airspace users operating around Anchorage International Airport and turned a blind eye to Flight Standards recommendations," AOPA wrote. "We ask you to reconsider the impact this decision on the airspace users your office is entrusted to protect."The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members, as are some 4,300 Alaska pilots.
August 10, 2000