New System Would Help Pilots Avoid Ground Obstacles

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Lights are fine for marking towers, except when they're not working, and those big orange balls help in spotting power lines, except when visibility is poor. To help prevent collisions, the FAA in Fort Worth, Texas, is testing a radar system that would continually scan the area around power lines or antennae for nearby aircraft, and trigger a strobe light to warn pilots (as opposed to just having a strobe running all the time on every tower), The Dallas Morning News reported last week. The Obstacle Collision Avoidance System could also broadcast a warning over the aircraft's radio. Two recent accidents highlighted the dangers of low-level obstacles -- a Gulfstream jet in Houston that hit a light pole on approach, and an Army helicopter that hit the support cables of an unlit tower in Texas. In Australia, helicopters were grounded recently, after three separate incidents of power line strikes. There have been more than 1,000 aviation accidents in the U.S. involving power lines since 1990, including more than 300 that have caused a fatality, according to the FAA, the Morning News said. The radar system would be solar-powered, making it more reliable and less likely to be affected by storms or power failures, and could be available as early as next year.