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New air traffic tower can handle more flights

Fri., Aug. 10, 2007

With a taller, more spacious and efficient air traffic control tower, Spokane’s controllers will be able to handle at least 55 more flights a day with the same number of staff, Federal Aviation Administration officials said Thursday at the new tower’s dedication.

Spokane International Airport handles about 270 flights per day now. Predictions say the airport will see increases over the next 20 years as more passengers and cargo traffic use the airport.

“We can now handle another 20 percent more per day. That’s at the least, and we can handle far more than that,” said David Jennings, the tower’s FAA quality assurance specialist and training director.

Thursday’s dedication of the $29.8 million tower – the tallest in Washington state at 271 feet – culminated the project that began in 2005.

At midnight Aug. 26 – chosen because it’s a Sunday – the FAA says it will switch all aviation controls from the old 1960-vintage tower to the new one.

The airport’s older tower will continue operating as a backup for a few months, FAA officials said.

In addition to consolidating FAA workers in Spokane, the new tower and control center makes Spokane technologically prepared for its next 50 years.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was at the dedication and was cited for her role in finding more than $16 million in federal funds for the project.

“This tower ensures and increases the efficiency and safety of travelers and military flights in Spokane,” Murray said. “It’s good to know the eyes and ears of the people we count on to keep us in the air safely will soon be in a newer facility.”

Among the flights controlled by the FAA here are approaches to and departures from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base. The rest are passenger flights, cargo plane traffic and general aviation involving private aircraft.

The new tower’s primary viewing area now faces north instead of south, giving air controllers a clearer sight of Fairchild and the airport’s taxiways and runways, said Jennings.

The new tower is nearly 200 feet taller than the older tower, said Jennings.

That also makes it about 10 feet taller, at the viewing level, than the tower at SeaTac Airport.

“With the improved sight lines now, it eliminates a few problems with being able to see every taxiway area,” said Jennings.

Total Spokane FAA staffing will not change, said David Adams, the FAA district manager for Spokane.

The FAA offices here have 50 people, 30 of whom are air traffic controllers. Those controllers either work inside the tower cab or downstairs at the terminal radar approach control center (called a TRACON).

Eventually the older tower will be demolished, although some backers of a Spokane and Eastern Washington aviation museum hope to save portions of it, Jennings said.

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