Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill to increase the safety of agricultural aviation, helicopters, and other low-altitude general aviation flying by requiring the marking and registration of meteorological evaluation towers.
Senate Bill 505 will take effect Sept. 1 and represents a landmark for aviation safety, said one long-time tower-marking advocate. The measure will require that the towers, used by wind-power ventures to assess the development potential of sites for wind turbines, be painted in alternating bands of aviation orange and white, and be equipped with orange marker balls to increase their visibility. The towers usually stand less than 200 feet above ground level.
The legislation also calls for state rules to be created by which owners must provide notice of intent to erect an MET, and register it with state officials.
In enacting the legislation, which creates a misdemeanor offense for failure of an MET owner to comply, Texas has joined numerous other states that have recognized the need to mark the towers, said Yasmina Platt, AOPA Central Southwest regional manager.
The structures do not come under FAA scrutiny because of their low height above ground level. METs have, however, been involved in several aircraft accidents—prompting the National Transportation Safety Board to issue a Safety Alert advising pilots to be vigilant about METs.
The NTSB also submitted testimony in favor of the Texas bill in March 2015, when it was under consideration by the Senate’s Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee.
"The NTSB is encouraged by the state laws passed and pending on this safety issue, particularly those that require both MET marking and registration as called for in our recommendations. Maintaining a directory of MET locations provides pilots with useful information and an added layer of protection in instances where environmental conditions may hamper visibility. As the wind energy industry expands, the deployment of METs will also increase," the independent safety agency noted.
Carol Jennings first championed legislation to mark low-level towers 12 years ago with the Jennings-Payne Act after her son, an agricultural pilot, was lost in a collision with a 180-foot-tall communications tower and its guy wires on Sept. 29, 2000.
That measure covered cellphone communications towers—which were springing up in numbers at the time—but not METs, she said in a phone interview. Today, however, METs "pose the exact same risk" to pilots, she said.
Unlike the limited extent of the 2003 law, the newly passed bill, which was backed by the Texas Agricultural Aviation Association and AOPA, represents a "landmark" because its provisions embrace all federal recommendations for anti-collision marking of the towers covered by the law, she said.
As a result, METs in Texas are "one crop of towers that pilots have a better chance of not hitting at all," Jennings said.