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FAA to check air towers for lightning strike threat

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 agency will look for problems with the lightning protection systems for airport towers, where air traffic controllers choreograph the landings and takeoffs of tens of thousands of flights each day.

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The FAA revealed the planned assessments in response to a Freedom of Information Act request about the Sept. 12, 2013, lightning strike at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The FAA said in a statement the accident was ‘‘the first of its kind in FAA history’’ and it plans on ‘‘assessing the condition’’ of lightning protection systems at 440 air traffic control towers across the country. In particular, the agency said, it will examine lightning protection at more than 200 towers built before 1978, when the FAA first issued standards for protection systems.

It is not clear when the assessments will begin. Lynn Lunsford, an FAA spokesman, said they are now in the planning stages.

Assessments of older towers and towers at airports undergoing some construction probably will get priority, Lunsford said.

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