Charlotte airport getting ready to replace its 37-year-old control tower


Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s control tower has directed millions of planes coming and going since it was built in 1979, but the venerable tower’s days are numbered: Workers are breaking ground on a new tower this week.

The new tower will be more than twice as tall as the current structure, able to handle hundreds of thousands more landings and takeoffs a year. It’s seen as key to growth beyond the airport: Charlotte Douglas is widely hailed as the city’s most important economic asset, with its hub offering the nonstop connections to other cities that businesses crave.

Thursday’s groundbreaking event will represent the culmination of a decade-long process. Local officials have been seeking to replace the current tower since 2006.

The Federal Aviation Administration and Charlotte Douglas officials are scheduled to hold the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning. Unlike what travelers are used to seeing, the new tower won’t be located in front of the terminal. Instead, it’s located off Yorkmont Road, closer to the middle of the airport’s property and near training and cargo facilities.

That’s south of the terminal, between the eastern and central north-south runways. That will allow controllers a better view of all three north-south runways, including the newest western runway parallel to Interstate 485, which is sometimes difficult for controllers to see. That runway opened in 2010.

The new control tower will also have a good view of the planned fourth parallel runway, which would be located to the tower’s west. That 12,000-foot-long runway would be Charlotte’s longest.

The new, concrete tower will be 376 feet high, compared with the current tower’s height of 155 feet. There’s also more room for controllers: An 850 square-foot cab instead of the current 525 square-foot room at the top of the tower.

That’s important, because when the current tower opened 37 years ago, the FAA controlled about 225,000 takeoffs and landings at Charlotte Douglas annually. By 2015, that number had almost doubled, to 543,000 takeoffs and landings, and it’s forecast to increase to 990,000 by 2030.

Archer Western is the general contractor for the $60 million new tower, which the FAA is funding. The facility will also include a a new radar approach control facility, built at the tower’s base. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018, and the tower should be commissioned and operational in 2019.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo