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Check Those Lights, Each and Every One

Tower owner loses appeal in case involving top beacon

The outcome of this Enforcement Bureau case suggests a moral: A single bad tower light can be costly, especially if your monitoring system isn’t set up to detect the failure.

A Pennsylvania tower owner has failed to convince the FCC Enforcement Bureau to overturn a fine, though the commission did reduce it a bit. The penalty is against Forever of PA Inc. in Hollidaysburg, Pa., for violations involving Part 17 rules, which require either daily observation of obstruction lighting or an automatic alert system that detects and reports failures.

In 2006, the FCC received a report of a light outage after a pilot reported it to the FAA. During an inspection an agent determined that the tower lights were functioning except for the top beacon light. Part of the ensuing appeal revolved around whether the owner and chief operator knew the monitoring system was not configured to detect individual light outages.

The FCC planned a fine of $10,000. The owner did not dispute that the beacon had been unlit or that it did not notify the FAA of the outage, according to the FCC. But the owner argued that it had been unaware of its monitoring system’s limitations until the inspection, and thus its actions were not willful.

The Enforcement Bureau rejected the arguments and upheld the $10,000 fine. The owner then appealed again.

The FCC now says, “Forever again raises the very same argument already considered and rejected in the Forfeiture Order, that the violation was not willful because Forever was unaware of the monitoring system’s deficiencies.” It was the company’s omission that it relied on a system that did not have the necessary interface to detect single light outages, the FCC found.

The staff also wrote in a footnote that if the company had complied with rules that require tower owners to “inspect at intervals not to exceed 3 months all automatic or mechanical control devices, indicator and alarm systems associated with the antenna structure lighting,” it would have discovered that its system was incapable of detecting single light outages.

The commission did reduce the fine to $8,000 based on the company’s compliance record.