Disney is just inches away from breaking a federal law. But, with some clever imagineering, they were able to just sneak around this law!
Federal Aviation Administration
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), all structures exceeding 200 feet above ground level must be appropriately marked with tower lights or tower paint. This is for the safety of airplanes passing by overhead. While aircrafts are banned from flying below 3000 ft within a 3 mile radius of Magic Kingdom, which also covers part of Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are not included in this no-fly zone and therefore are not exempt from this law.
Imagineers knew that a flashing red light would not fit the theme of their Disney parks. So, they built their attractions to fall just under 200′ tall. Expedition Everest is 199.5′ tall, and Tower of Terror is 199′ tall!
Disney Dolphin Resort Exemption
Some guests are quick to notice that the Dolphin Resort does not have a light, despite the fact that it is 257′ tall. While no one has publicly shared, many speculate what the reason could be. There was a study conducted in 1999 for the addition of an antenna to the top of the Swan and A Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation was made for that particular antenna. It is 2’ tall and is listed as being at the top of a 250’ structure. Here’s some of the ideas that have been shared as to why the Dolphin wouldn’t require a light.
1) Per 14 CFR 77.9 the notice was filed prior to construction and based on the plans the FAA determined a light was not necessary for this application, for whatever reason (some speculate that due to the pyramid shape it was not significant enough, others suggest due to the lights in the Swans being within close proximity).
2) At the time the building was constructed the nearby “STOLport” runway had been officially closed for many years (It had been closed in 1982 when the EPCOT monorail was being built near by) therefore there was no airport within 3 miles as described in 14 CFR 77.17(a)(2). Thus it would not fit this definition and no light would be required. (It’s important to note that certain specific types of structures have their own definitions and my require a light at different heights).
3) External lighting. Based on pictures it appears that both the Swan and Dolphin have light shining up on the statues which may satisfy any requirement. Similarly, in an article cited many times in the YouTube comments, it’s stated that the upper 80 feet of the Dolphin building wasn’t usable for rooms and was given fake windows to complete the look. Lighting from these windows near the top may actually satisfy any requirements too. While the article also stated that the Swan statues were made into lightning rods and had red glowing eyes, I haven’t been able to find any photo’s that show the eyes being lit up red.