Future FAA Rules Could Affect Some Amateur Radio Antenna Support Structures

FAA LogoYet-to-be-developed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules stemming from the recent passage in Congress of H.R. 636, the FAA Reauthorization Act, could pose additional marking requirements for a small number of Amateur Radio towers. The bill instructs the FAA to enact rules similar to state-level statutes now in place that are aimed at improving aircraft safety in the vicinity of meteorological evaluation towers (METs) set up in rural areas. In the wake of fatal crop dusting aircraft collisions with METs, often erected on short notice, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended in 2013 that states enact laws — sometimes called “crop duster” statutes — requiring marking and registration of METs. While some state crop duster laws exempt ham radio towers, the federal legislation does not. ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, said, however, that the list of exemptions in the federal legislation restricts application of the new rules to a very small subset of Amateur Radio towers.

“The FAA Reauthorization Act has very little application to Amateur Radio antennas. We will have a good opportunity to address the final FAA rules through the normal rulemaking process,” Imlay said. “We’ll be meeting soon with FAA officials to learn their intentions as well as to advance our own concerns to the agency. Uniform federal regulation is beneficial to hams, because it eliminates a patchwork of state statutes that can impose significant constraints on ham antennas in rural and agricultural areas.”

The FAA Reauthorization Act gives the FAA 1 year to issue regulations requiring the marking of towers covered by the new legislation. Marking of towers covered by the legislation will be in the form of painting and lighting in accordance with current FAA guidelines.

The law covers towers that are “self-standing or supported by guy wires and ground anchors;” are 10 feet or less in diameter at the above-ground base, excluding concrete footings; are between 50 feet above ground level at the highest point and not more than 200 feet above ground level; have accessory facilities on which an antenna, sensor, camera, meteorological instrument, or other equipment is mounted, and are located outside the boundaries of an incorporated city or town or on land that is undeveloped or used for agricultural purposes.

Imlay said the law excludes towers erected adjacent to a house, barn, electric utility station, or other building, or within the curtilage (enclosed area occupied by a dwelling, grounds, and outbuildings) of a farmstead, among other exclusions. He said “undeveloped” land refers to a defined geographical area where the FAA determines that low-flying aircraft routinely operate, such as forested areas with predominant tree cover below 200 fee, and pasture and range land.

The FAA will develop a database containing the location and height of each covered tower, but Imlay noted that the database contents may only be disclosed for purposes involving aviation safety.

“We do not anticipate that a significant number of Amateur Radio antennas will be subject to these rules,” Imlay said, “but we need to monitor the FAA rulemaking process carefully to head off requirements that could put the cost of installing and maintaining affected structures out of any reasonable reach.”