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Airport has a new vision

Tue., Nov. 7, 2006, midnight

Twenty-one months after breaking ground, federal officials Monday said they’re a month from finishing the $26-million traffic control tower at Spokane International Airport on the West Plains.

During the first several months of 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration will install radar and radio equipment in the new tower building.

The FAA plans for the tower to take over all air traffic for Spokane’s airport and Fairchild Air Force Base next August, said Dave Roberts, regional manager for the FAA Pacific Northwest region.

Monday’s event included a visit by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to the top of the nearly 272-foot-tall tower. Murray, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, played a key part in obtaining $16.6 million in federal dollars for the tower, said Spokane Airport Board Chairman David Brukardt.

Mitch Roland, one of 28 federal air traffic controllers in Spokane, said the new facility will help controllers do a better job of tracking flights in and out of the two airports.

“It’s going to make it easier for us now because it will let us look out and see both airports directly in front of us,” he said. At present, the older, 75-foot-tall tower is placed between the airport runway and Fairchild. That requires controllers to swivel around when checking flights leaving or approaching Fairchild and Spokane International Airport.

During two shifts each day the FAA has nine controllers working, with three controllers at a minimum inside the cab — the enclosed glass-and-concrete control area. The others work inside the tracking and radar control room, where they can track flights coming to the airport or passing through air space for Spokane and Missoula, Mont.

The only concern voiced by controllers has been a requested upgrade for the tracking and radar equipment used at the tower. The FAA has said it will use the same type of tracking and radar system used at the old tower, said Roland.

An upgrade to the very latest system won’t happen soon, said Roberts, inasmuch as the FAA says existing radar and communications equipment in Spokane fully meets all control requirements.

The actual height of the cab in Spokane is 238 feet. The antenna above the cab measures another 33 feet and 6 inches. The net result makes Spokane’s tower and structure two feet higher than the tower at SeaTac Airport, said Keith Reyburn, an engineer hired by the tower design firm, Parsons Corp.


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