By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
When it comes to investigating ill-advised construction projects that could threaten public safety, perhaps the Channel 26/KRIV "City Under Siege" report should have a look close to home. Management of the Fox-owned station has been trying since last summer to get city approval for a station helipad deemed unsafe by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The problem began when Fox built the helipad last year at its new Southwest Freeway location without first consulting aviation experts. When FAA pilots test-flew the pad, their report cited numerous safety hazards.
According to the report, issued in May of last year, "Due to the compact layout of the area, with nearby tall power lines, buildings, parking lots, railroad tracks and raised freeways, the pilot is not provided any safe option in the event of an emergency during takeoff or landing."
The problems don't stop there, according to the report. The helipad is situated between parallel raised roadways, which results "in critical phases of takeoff and landing occurring immediately over the busy roadways. Accordingly, the helicopter operations would constitute a danger and a distraction to the heavy 55- to 60-mile-per-hour traffic on the roadways."
The north and northeast approach is equally forbidding. The raised portion of the Southwest Freeway and an occupied parking lot are in the flight path, and approach from the east would cause the chopper to cross over the station building at low speed. On the south and west, the site is obstructed by 200-foot-high power lines.
And if that didn't provide thrills sufficient for a Bruce Willis action movie, the FAA report adds that "in addition, we understand that a 240-foot electrical transmission tower is to be constructed approximately 180 feet east of the helipad." The report concluded that "we must object to the establishment of the subject heliport in the proposed location due to the potential hazards to aircraft using the heliport and people and property in the vicinity."
Station management did not return an Insider inquiry as to why Fox spent several hundred thousand dollars to build a helipad in the midst of such a briar patch of obstacles.
Faced with the FAA report, the city of Houston declined to grant KRIV a license to operate the helipad. According to FAA spokesman Bernie Christian, the agency has no current plans to re-evaluate the helipad site, which currently sits unused.
Well, almost unused. A station photographer with a sense of humor parked his vehicle on top of the pad recently. He was quickly shooed away, and the vehicle replaced by a no-parking sign. Luckily for the nearby office workers and streams of motorists traversing the Southwest Freeway, the FAA's no-flying ban is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon.
In the meantime, KRIV reporters wanting to take to the sky for their assignments must drive downtown to the George R. Brown Convention Center helipad to catch a Sky Fox.
-- Tim Fleck