SoCal Pilots Fighting Radio Tower

Pilots in Southern California are decrying a radio station’s plans to erect a transmission tower near the Fullerton Municipal Airport (FUL)… on the site of an old antenna involved in the deaths of three pilots over the years.

Rod Propst, manager of FUL, says radio station KFI-AM is only asking for trouble with its plans to remount a 680-ft antenna in the area where its former 760-foot tower once stood. The site is within one-and-three-quarters of a mile from the airport’s runway… where the old antenna contributed to two fatal aviation accidents. Two persons onboard a Cessna 182 died when their plane struck the tower as they turned base leg to Runway 6 on December 19, 2004.

“The tower is an obstruction to aerial navigation,” Propst told the Whittier Daily News. “In the past two years it has killed two people, and in the 1970s it killed one person. It is just in a terrible place to put something that will be 680 feet high.”

KFI maintains the matter is all about improving radio reception — an important consideration for a radio station now heard only by residents in Los Angeles and Orange County with a 204-ft transmitter, but that once reached as many as 18 million listeners with the higher antenna. The station says it has compromised, by proposing to replace the former 760-foot tower with one some 80 feet shorter.

“It was a clear channel signal, but in order to maintain that classification, the minimum height would be about 680 feet,” said KFI general manager Greg Ashlock. “It’s more than just a tower. We’re a station that is a primary service provider for the [state] Office of Emergency Services.”

The FAA has weighed in on the matter, as well… and has given its blessing to the new, taller tower… albeit one mounted with both day and night flashing lights to ward off pilots.

“It is the view of the FAA that the cumulative effect of the reconstruction of the KFI broadcast tower to a maximum height of 684 feet will have no greater substantial adverse effect upon airspace utilization by any parties than did the previous structure that occupied this site,” Kevin Haggerty, manager of obstruction evaluation services for the FAA, wrote in a letter.

That explanation left many scratching their heads, however… including Ron Bolyard, aviation environmental planner for the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), who says that statement means a new tower would be just as dangerous as the old one (shown above.)

“Broadcast towers in the same location have been hit by aircraft twice in the past with accidents resulting in fatalities,” Bolyard wrote in a letter to the city of La Mirada, which has jurisdiction over the area in question. “[Caltrans] feels strongly that the FAA determination is inaccurate at best. The radio broadcast tower without a doubt is a hazard to air navigation, even at the reduced height, as has been proven twice in the past.”

The matter was set to go before the city Planning Commission last Thursday… but was postponed to give officials from Fullerton, La Mirada, and KFI time to meet and hash out a solution. More meetings are planned… but so far, no resolution has been reached.

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