Construction on new Charlotte Douglas airport control tower to start next year

A USAir jet takes off over the control tower at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Friday, March 19, 2004.
A USAir jet takes off over the control tower at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Friday, March 19, 2004. THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

Work is set to begin next year on a new control tower for Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a project the city has pursued for almost 10 years.

The current air traffic control tower opened in 1979, and the city and airport officials have long said it is too short and too small to accommodate the airport’s growth. A third parallel runway that opened in 2010 further complicates operations, as it is farther away from the tower and can be more challenging to see.

“The existing volume of operations and the height of the tower present challenges for air traffic controllers on a daily basis as they manage aircraft movements on the airfield,” airport staff wrote in a memo Wednesday.

Now, the Federal Aviation Administration has told Charlotte Douglas officials that money for the control tower has been allocated and the project has been advertised for bid. Construction is on track to start in the first quarter of 2016.

The control tower would be opened in late 2019 or early 2020, according to the city memo. That’s later than the city’s previous target date of 2017.

Airport officials couldn’t immediately be reached for more details. The cost of replacing the tower has previously been estimated at $60 million. The FAA will fund the project, since air traffic control is a federal responsibility.

The new tower would be 376 feet tall, more than double the current tower’s 155 foot height. The current tower has a 525-square-foot work area, which allows only seven controllers at a time to use the space. The new tower will accommodate more controllers in an 850-square-foot work area, which will help as takeoffs and landings are forecast to increase from the current 560,000 a year to 990,000 a year by 2030.

The new control tower would be located south of the terminal and air cargo facilities, between the airport’s center and eastern parallel runways. It would replace the current tower located adjacent to the hourly parking deck.

City officials and the Charlotte region’s congressional delegation have been pushing for federal funds to replace the airport’s aging control tower since 2006. In recent years, they’ve increased their lobbying efforts, as federal officials have pledged to fund the tower.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo