Let’s Be Fair About Sharing The Air
Wind turbines and unmarked towers such as meteorological evaluation towers (METs) are two separate but related issues affecting agricultural pilots and other low-level aviators, neither of which is well understood by those outside the industry. To help change that, NAAA has compiled a wealth of information about these “towering” problems.
In accordance with the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, all metrological evaluation towers (METs) between 50 and 200 feet in rural areas with an above ground base of less than 10 feet in diameter must be both properly marked and logged into a database the FAA is currently developing. All other towers, such as radio communication towers, RTK towers, etc. meeting these same specifications must be either marked or logged into the FAA database.
Both wind energy development and communication towers are poised for rapid growth in the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy has suggested that wind could supply up to 20 percent of the nation’s energy by 2030. Some are advocating for an even more ambitious goal of 25 x ’25: a national standard that would require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2025. The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) and the aerial application industry support responsible wind power development but are concerned about the unintended consequences that wind energy tower siting can have on arable farmland and aviation safety. Additionally, NAAA supports the responsible deployment of rural broadband systems to connect rural communities. However, NAAA advocates telecommunication companies utilize existing tower infrastructure, and small-cell nodes that can be placed on the sides of buildings and underground cables, rather than construction of new towers on or around arable farmland.
The airspace in which aerial applicators work is becoming increasingly obstructed by transmission lines, communication towers, wind turbines and hard-to-see meteorological testing towers. From 2008 – 2018, there have been 22 agricultural aviation accidents from collisions with METs, communication towers, towers supporting powerlines and wind turbines resulting in nine fatalities. For all of general aviation, there have been 40 tower related accidents and incidents resulting in 36 fatalities over the same 11-year period.
Without sensible placement and proper marking of towers, farmers may be at risk of losing important aerial application services performed on their cropland. This would detrimentally affect, in some instances, the only method farmers have available to them when the time comes to apply seeds, fertilizers and crop protection chemicals necessary to foster crop growth.
NAAA and its state association partners are working hard to make towers more visible for low-altitude pilots and to develop policies that consider aviation safety.
This is not just an aerial application concern. Improper wind turbine siting may negatively affect emergency medical flights, aerial firefighters, pipeline patrol planes and other low-flying operations. It is not just an aviation concern. Landowners are being asked to make crucial decisions that will impact farmers and their neighbors for years to come. NAAA encourages anyone considering leasing their wind rights to think seriously about the potential upsides and downsides before signing an agreement. Please explore the following pages to learn more about the impact of wind towers on aviation and agriculture.