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'Fake warning lights risk lives'

Illegal money-saving short cuts by some operators are putting lives at risk by not making tall cranes sufficiently visible to low-flying aircraft, it has been claimed.

Under aviation rules, specially designed bright red warning lights must be attached to tall structures on flight paths or near aerodromes.

But some crane operators use fake aircraft warning lights (AWLs) made by placing ordinary lights under red glass, according to a lighting expert.

Tariq Mukhtar, technical director of Oldham-based Delta Obstruction Lighting Ltd, which supplies lighting equipment, said: "Sometimes a company takes a short cut by putting an ordinary bulkhead light on a tall crane with a red bulb surrounding it.

"It used to happen quite a lot. Since we've been educating the companies they've been behaving themselves better, but there are still some who do this.

"Aircraft warning lights are quite expensive, but that's no excuse. It's illegal and the consequences of using a hand-made warning light could be an incident like the one that occurred today.

"We go to a lot of sites to do inspections and that's how we've been made aware of this. Usually when we put in a report pointing out that a company is not complying with the regulations, they put it right."

There is no suggestion that the crane struck by the helicopter was not properly illuminated. But the allegation raises a wider safety issue, especially in London and other cities where there are large numbers of high buildings and cranes.

In 2007, Delta Obstruction Lighting warned the construction industry that 80% of all cranes in the vicinity of Britain's major airports were not adequately lit. The situation is said to have improved greatly since then.

Under International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations, any structure over 45 metres tall on a flight path or near an aerodrome must be fitted with a medium intensity AWL.

Similarly located structures less than 45 metres tall may require a low intensity light. The rules state that the lights must be red in colour.

The lights have sensors which allow them to illuminate automatically in fog or darkness and are much brighter than ordinary lights.

A medium intensity AWL emits 2,000 candelas, a brightness equivalent to the same number of candle flames.

"These lights should easily be visible through fog," said Mr Mukhtar.

London's highest structure is the Shard skyscraper at London Bridge which is 309.7 metres (1,016ft) tall.

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