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FAA issues notice of policy on new airborne wind energy systems

The FAA is asking for public participation as it integrates an emerging technology known as airborne wind energy systems (AWES) into the National Airspace System.

The agency will accept public comments until Feb. 6 on AWES, which it describes in a notice of policy published Dec. 7, 2011, as “mechanical devices that are moored to the ground, via a tether, for the purpose of capturing the fluid stream kinetic energy of winds.”

The FAA undertook the examination, it said, as a result of an increased focus by industry and science on sources of renewable energy, including wind power. The agency said it had been approached by “various entities” including wind energy researchers who are designing ways to harness the “more sustained and consistent winds at higher altitudes where conventional ground-based wind turbines cannot reach.”

FAA policy for AWES would apply to the testing phase of AWES below 500 feet, and would apply Part 77 regulations (Safe, Efficient Use, and Preservation of Navigable Airspace) that apply to other obstructions, such as radio towers. 

The notice of policy also requires that AWES be made conspicuous to the flying public as outlined in Advisory Circular 70/7460-1, “Obstruction marking and Lighting.” The advisory circular does not specifically apply to the devices, but could serve as a guideline.

In comments submitted Jan. 26, AOPA noted that the wind energy systems present specific challenges for being made visible to aviators. AOPA supported the FAA’s notice of policy--especially applying Part 77 standards for ensuring airspace safety during testing and evaluation of the systems. Those regulations provide for public review and comment on each individual obstruction.

AOPA also urged the FAA to continue to apply Part 77 standards to tethered AWES after the testing and evaluation period, and to review those regulations for potential opportunities to improve the evaluation of the impact of obstructions on VFR flight operations.

AOPA called for further study of the impact on existing flight operations and VFR operations of any permanent installations above 2,000 feet agl. The association noted that it would oppose the establishment of airspace restrictions to accommodate tethered AWES.

“The growth of renewable energy could mean that the use of AWES systems expands. It is necessary to have a policy in place that equitably accommodates all users of the National Airspace System,” said Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of airspace and modernization. He encouraged members to review the notice of policy and participate in the comment submission process.

Comments can be submitted online until Feb. 6. Please cite Docket 2011-1279 and share a copy of your comments with AOPA.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, FAA Information and Services, Training and Safety

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