A Mixed Message On Met Towers
The FAA is suggesting that if the folks who are putting up met towers wouldn't mind, it would be nice if they would paint them so aviators have a better chance of seeing them. That's the gist of the proposed policy that the FAA is now taking comments on. Met towers, if you haven't run across them yet, are set up by landowners who are considering installing a wind turbine. They are generally left in place for a year or more and collect meteorological data. If they are less than 200 feet tall, there is currently no requirement at all to try to make them visible to pilots, or to notify the FAA about their location. Coincidentally, many of the towers... including the one that a California ag pilot fatally crashed into earlier this month... run about 197 feet high. They are tall, narrow, unmarked, supported by guy wires, and good luck seeing them before it's too late.
A proposed policy recently published by the FAA provides recommendations for how the towers should be painted and marked, if the owners choose to do so, but compliance is not required. It would be left up to the met-tower owners to comply or not, as they like. I find it hard to believe that many of them will opt to take on the extra effort and expense, if it's purely voluntary.
One of the comments at the FAA site was filed by a member of the Army National Guard in Idaho. A couple of met towers were installed with no warning in the low-level training area used by his unit. "The way we found them," he wrote, "was during a night-vision training mission... the crew caught a reflection from the anti-collision light on the aircraft." The crew later went back to see what it was and discovered the tower. "The rotor blades had to be just about over the tower for the light to reflect back," he wrote. He added that voluntary compliance was not his preference.
It seems to me the FAA should decide if these towers are a safety problem, or not. If they're not, then leave them alone. But if they need to be painted and illuminated so pilots can see them, that should be mandated, rather than suggested.