The FCC is seeking comments on changes to its rules governing antenna structure construction, lighting, marking and maintenance. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking to such an overhaul was issued April 20. Comments are due July 20 and replies Aug. 19.
Historically, the FAA has set most of the substantive standards for antenna structures, e.g., for lighting and painting, even though the FCC has the responsibility for enforcing those standards as they apply to its licensees. But the two agencies apparently do not coordinate as well as they might – and, as a result, discrepancies between the FAA's requirements and their FCC equivalents have developed. The NPRM's primary focus is to address these discrepancies.
For example, the FCC rule section on painting/lighting specifications requires conformance with an FAA circular superseded more than six years ago. The FCC proposes to fix the problem now by deleting references to any circulars, and requiring instead that structure owners comply with whatever determination the FAA issues.
Similarly, Sections 17.14 and 17.17 of the Commission's rules – which specify which structures are subject to notification to the FAA and which are exempt – merely parrot the FAA's rules. The FCC correctly observes that this approach risks creating confusion in the event the FAA changes its rules. So now the FCC proposes to cross-reference, in its own rules, the corresponding FAA rule. But there is more.
Current FCC rules require that each structure's Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) number be displayed "in a conspicuous place so that it is readily visible near the base" of the structure. But elsewhere the Commission requires that the ASR number be displayed along a perimeter fence or at the point of entry of the gate. The FCC proposes to resolve this by requiring the display to be visible from the closest publicly accessible location near the tower base.
The Commission also proposes to streamline requirements regarding inspection and maintenance of marking and lighting by eliminating the separate inspection component entirely while retaining the obligation to assure proper lighting at all times. Timely notification of outages would still have to be made to the FAA. As an alternative, if inspection requirements are retained, the FCC may consider exempting certain network control center-based monitoring systems.
In addition, the FCC proposes definitions addressing exactly what alterations to a structure would require a new FAA study. The Commission's rules currently contain no such definitions, even though the FCC has, since 1995, applied the informal standard that any change in height of one foot or more, or any change in location of one second or more, would trigger a new FAA study. These standards would be incorporated in the FCC's rules.
Another proposed change: Structure owners would have to keep records for two years of observed or known lighting outages or the improper functioning of lights.
To determine the coordinates of a structure, the FCC suggests that it might insist on specific accuracy standards or survey methods, even though the FAA does not impose such a requirement.
The FAA requires structure owners to notify it of construction or dismantlement within five days. The FCC, by contrast, provides only 24 hours for such notice. The Commission proposes to stick by its limit.
One aspect of the FAA/FCC relationship may be out of the FCC's hands. The FAA has on occasion asserted authority over not only the physical nature of antenna structures, but also their RF characteristics. In such cases the FAA has withheld “no hazard” determinations based on the particular frequencies to be transmitted – to protect air navigation frequencies from interference. In fact the FAA has an open rule making on this subject. In its NPRM the FCC inquires whether the FCC's rules or policies should be altered in the event the FAA adopts new standards.
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Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, Virginia. E-mail: