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FAA: Farm equipment radio interference threatens air traffic

Radio interference from a farm's massive metal crop-watering structure is causing havoc for air traffic in the sky over Georgia, federal authorities said in a lawsuit filed this week. / Photo: MGN Online

Radio interference from a farm's massive metal crop-watering structure is causing havoc for air traffic in the sky over Georgia, federal authorities said in a lawsuit filed this week.

The irrigation structure is on a south Georgia farm where the Federal Aviation Administration has a radio transmitter to relay signals that keep aircraft on course, according to the federal lawsuit.

Interference caused by the 1,200-foot-long structure forced the FAA to shut down its transmitter in February, affecting operations of nine airports. The proximity of Robins Air Force Base makes the situation even more serious, the government said in its complaint.

Flight safety has been compromised, the lawsuit warns.

"The potential for catastrophic harm is great," U.S. Attorney Charles Peeler says in the complaint, which is also signed by the manager of an FAA facility in Columbus, Georgia.

The lawsuit doesn't suggest the irrigation structure is actively transmitting a signal. Rather, it says the huge metal framework is degrading the FAA's signal, which is susceptible to "reflection or scattering" by nearby structures.

The signal from the navigational equipment was so degraded that it had to be shut down in February to avoid transmitting false location information to airplanes, the complaint states. It has remained dormant since then, which has strained the air traffic control system and "creates an unnecessary risk to the traveling public," it states.

The FAA said in a statement to The Associated Press on Friday that it can't comment on litigation.

Three men identified by the FAA as land owners are listed as defendants. They couldn't immediately be reached Friday.

Except for the Air Force base, the other airports affected by the situation are not named in the lawsuit. One of the closest commercial airports is Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of the Pulaski County farm.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is requesting an immediate hearing in court and an injunction that would force the defendants to move the structure — described as a center pivot overhead sprinkler system supported by trusses — outside of a 1,000-foot radius of the flight equipment so as not to interfere with it.

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