SUN: Nation’s second-tallest tower dedicated at McCarran

Feb 9, 2017
In The News

As air traffic controllers guided midday traffic across the airport’s four runways in hushed tones Tuesday afternoon, FAA officials and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation spoke enthusiastically at its base about the 352-foot structure and its importance to the future of tourism in Southern Nevada.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta cut the red ribbon on the long-awaited tower, which began to be constructed more than five years ago. Two government shutdowns, one significant construction error and $111 million later, the tower and accompanying facility received their official christening.

“We all apologize to everyone for this taking as long as it has,” Reid said before pointing blame at Republicans in Congress for government shutdowns in 2011 and 2013 that slowed construction of the tower.

Major issues with duct work in the tower were discovered in 2014 and put the completion of the tower months behind schedule.

Operational for almost two months, the tower offers controllers greater visibility from its higher vantage point, and the two-level setup keeps controllers handling ground and air operations separated. Up to 16 air traffic controllers work at any given time atop the new tower, which features an additional 400 square feet of space in its cab, or controller work area.

“It’s critical for us to reinvest in our infrastructure to ensure we have the safest, most efficient and most competitive air transportation system possible,” Huerta said.

It stands one foot shorter than the tallest tower in the country at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson AIrport. McCarran’s previous tower was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1983,and is 185 feet tall.

The facility also features a 52,800-square-foot base building where the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility operates. TRACON handles aircraft flying up to 19,000 feet within a 35-mile radius of McCarran, and the improved facility allows an additional four controllers to work at any time.

Controllers soon will have full access to the FAA’s NextGen system, an improvement Reid has pushed for years. The system’s enhanced navigation uses GPS technology that tracks aircraft much closer to real-time than radar, which Huerta referred to as “fuzzy” by comparison.

“This takes that somewhat fuzzy view and converts it to HDTV,” Huerta said, allowing controllers to safely place aircraft closer together to increase efficiency and save fuel.

Officials estimate the new facility will serve McCarran for at least the next 30 years. When the previous tower opened in 1983, McCarran served 140,000 flights per year. Last year, the airport served 525,000 flights and 45 million passengers. Those totals ranked McCarran as the eighth-busiest airport in the country last year based on passenger volume.

The old tower will be torn down and useable equipment will be repurposed either at McCarran or at another aviation facility.