The Edmond Sun

Local News

May 8, 2014

Aeronautics commission fights to breathe life into vetoed tower bill

GUTHRIE — The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission had its May meeting at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport on Thursday, which included discussion on an airport safety bill vetoed recently by Gov. Mary Fallin and attempts to resurrect the legislation.

Fallin vetoed Senate Bill 1195, which would have required all meteorological evaluation towers, commonly referred to as MET towers, be painted in their entirety and that they be registered with the OAC. The requirements would include towers to be erected as well as towers already erected.

The bill comes after several pilots and passengers in low-flying aircraft such as aerial sprayers had been killed after colliding with unmarked or inadequately marked towers. The latest pilot to be killed was near Balko.

These towers can be as high as 200 feet, and as they are typically made from galvanized steel, can blend easily into the surrounding landscape.

Fallin wrote in her veto message that the bill imposes requirements beyond the Airport Zoning Act and the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act. She wrote that concerns attempted to be addressed in this bill are better addressed through administrative rule making and civil remedies, rather than through criminal penalties.

Victor Bird, OAC director, told the commission he takes the blame for not getting the bill passed.

“I feel like I failed in that regard to some extent,” Bird said. “I don’t feel like the governor was apprised of what the bill really was. I think I could have done a better job.”

SB1195 would require MET towers that are at least 50 feet in height to be painted in alternating bands of orange and white for the entire length of the structure. In addition to the color markings, the bill also requires marker balls to be attached on the outside guy wires. These requirements would allow pilots operating aerial sprayers and other low-flying aircraft to see the structures more clearly in daylight hours.

At present, the Federal Aviation Administration has no jurisdiction on towers or obstructions in remote areas until they reach 200 feet above ground level, meaning the states themselves must pursue legislation.

Under the legislation, MET tower owners not adhering to the new requirements would be subject to a fine.

Treasure Tytenicz, OAC program manager for aviation education and government affairs, told the commission that she is working with legislators about combining language from SB 1195 into a companion House bill to keep the legislation alive.

Tytenicz said officials from the National Transportation Safety Board also have sent letters to Fallin and legislative leaders supporting SB 1195.

“We feel this is a significant safety bill and we are wanting to see if at all possible that it could be passed this session,” Tytenicz said. “We are really hoping the timeliness of that letter will help resurrect that particular legislation and bring it back to the governor.”

In other matters, the commission approved a capital improvement grant for the construction of a new terminal building at Grove Municipal Airport. The total project cost is $1 million and will be funded with $500,000 in state grant funds and $500,000 in sponsor matching funds.

Lisa Jewett, manager of the Grove Municipal Airport, thanked the commission for its support.

“This is a major project for us and it will help us grow economically,” Jewett said.

Bird also told the commission about him being awarded with the Heritage Award by the Oklahoma Airport Operators Association for his longtime support of the OAOA and his contributions to the aeronautics industry.

“This is not really my award,” Bird said. “It belongs to my staff.”

The OAOA also named the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport as the “Airport of the Year,” while GERA manager Justin Heid was tabbed “Airport Manager of the Year.”

 

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