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FAA to examine airport towers after lightning strike

Published 9:52am Thursday, February 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — A lightning strike that injured an air traffic controller at Baltimore’s main airport has exposed a potential vulnerability at airport towers during storms and is prompting Federal Aviation Administration officials to inspect hundreds of towers nationwide, The Associated Press has learned.

The FAA will be looking for problems with the lightning protection systems for airport towers, where air traffic controllers do the vital job of choreographing the landings and takeoffs of tens of thousands of flights each day.

The FAA told the AP about the planned assessments of the towers’ lightning protection systems after responding to a Freedom of Information Act request about the Sept. 12, 2013, lightning strike at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

FAA said in a statement that the accident was “the first of its kind in FAA history,” and the agency plans on “assessing the condition” of lightning protection systems at the 440 air traffic control towers it is responsible for across the country. In particular, the agency said it will examine lightning protection at more than 200 towers that were built prior to 1978, when the FAA first issued standards for the protection systems.

Because of their height, airport towers have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, and tower designers plan for the bolts. Towers are built with lightning rods and wiring to direct the electrical current from a strike harmlessly into the ground. That protects the tower and equipment from damage and protects the air traffic controllers working inside.


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