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Cell tower proposal denied after AOPA, pilots mobilize

A prompt and thorough response from local pilots and AOPA airport advocacy experts helped strike down a plan to build a cellphone tower close to an Arizona airport’s landing area—for fear it would put pilots flying in the vicinity at risk.

Google Earth image.

Safety was the main concern of the advocates—mobilized in just 48 hours by local pilot and owner/operator of White Mountain Lake Airpark Tony Tangalos—who expressed opposition to an application from a major cellphone company that hoped to construct a 5G antenna tower just 1,500 feet from the runway in Navajo County in Arizona.

The issue was taken up at an August 17 meeting hosted by the Navajo County Planning Commission, where airport advocates had an opportunity to express their safety concerns—citing evidence published by the FAA, Airbus, and trade associations indicating 5G towers transmit frequencies that directly interfere with radio altimeter operations.

Helicopters from PHI Inc., a local business that provides search-and-rescue and emergency services from the field, use radio altimeters to take off and land. PHI representatives also attended the commission meeting to express concerns that their equipment would be dangerously impacted by the construction of the tower—especially with plans to construct it in such close proximity to the landing areas at the airport.

The commission’s decision to deny the recommendation of the tower approval was unanimous.

“This was a major victory for the long-term success of PHI and our valued property owners at White Mountain Lake Airport,” said Tangalos. “The key testimony provided by PHI staff was the pivotal factor in swaying the Commission members to vote against the proposed development.”

The swift response from AOPA’s airport advocacy team, led by Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Mike Ginter and Western Pacific Regional Manager Jared Yoshiki, provided key evidence and outlined an opposition strategy that played an important role in the success of the concerned parties at White Mountain Lake Airpark. According to Ginter, “Protecting America’s community airports and privately owned airparks like White Mountain Lake is core to our mission, and we appreciate Tony reaching out in a timely manner to collaborate on a winning strategy to protect his airport from incompatible land use development.”

Members with concerns at their airports are encouraged to engage with AOPA’s airport advocacy team for help. The team’s extensive experience offers a strong first line of defense when addressing critical issues and dealing with state and local officials.

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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