With the flip of a row of ceremonial shovels Thursday morning, construction officially kicked off on Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s new control tower, promising controllers a better view of the airfield, improved technology and more space to expand.
“This is a day that’s been a long time coming,” said Anthony Foxx, former Charlotte mayor and current U.S. secretary of transportation. City, state and federal officials have been pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new control tower for Charlotte since 2006.
“It’s in the right location. It’s not in the middle of the parking lot anymore, and that’s a good thing,” Foxx said of the new tower’s location near the middle of the airport, off Yorkmont Road near training and cargo facilities, with unobstructed views of all the airport’s runways.
The current control tower at Charlotte Douglas was built in 1979. It’s 155 feet tall, and it opened in an era when Charlotte Douglas saw about 225,000 takeoffs and landings a year.
“It’s just too short and too small,” said Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Last year, air traffic controllers oversaw about 543,000 takeoffs and landings at Charlotte Douglas, and the airport is expected to add hundreds of thousands more a year over the next decades as it builds two new runways.
The new tower will be 370 feet tall, which the FAA said will make it the second tallest in the U.S. It will have space for more controllers and a 42,000-square-foot radar approach tracking facility at its base, which will incorporate newer technology and allow for more efficient spacing of aircraft.
“This will ensure our air traffic controllers have clear lines of sight to all runways,” said Michael Whitaker, deputy administrator of the FAA.
Archer Western is the general contractor for the $60 million project. The FAA said it expects to have the new tower built by 2018 and operational by 2020. Another $52 million will be spent on equipment, installation, training and demolition of the old tower, bringing the total cost of the project to $112 million.