Oct. 22--Starting in January, a new air-traffic control tower at Memphis International Airport will start rising on the city horizon.
At a height of 336 feet, it will be 136 feet taller than the current tower, or the equivalent of a 30-story building.
The Federal Aviation Administration awarded a $52.2 million contract to Flintco General Contractors of Memphis.
Construction will begin in January, with completion expected in 2011.
"The existing tower has got to stay in operation during construction, so that certainly presents challenges," said Kevin Moyes, Flintco's Memphis division president. "We'll be on a fairly tight site as far as the logistics of getting materials in and erecting the building."
Construction is nearly two years behind schedule for a variety of reasons, including federal funding and design issues, said Scott Brockman, finance director at Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.
"We look forward to them getting it done," he said, adding that he suspects Memphis travelers are growing weary of construction in front of the airport.
"It was the outbound road first, then the inbound road, and now the tower," he said. "Next summer, we'll start breaking ground for the new parking garage in front of the terminal.
"It's all necessary, but it means that area of the airport will be under construction for several more years."
The cab of the tower will be 850 square feet, double the size of the current tower. The existing tower was built in 1977.
The base building, where traffic going around the city is controlled, will increase from 19,000 to 24,000 square feet.
"The new tower will improve seismic, security and air-traffic training and simulation capabilities," said Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman.
"We've built a lot of air-traffic control towers lately, including in Atlanta, Miami and Orlando," she said. "This will certainly rank Memphis up there in height and technology."
The airport has grown beyond what the current tower was designed to handle. The taller tower will improve sight lines across the entire airfield.
"They were supposed to break ground a year ago in August, with move-in in the summer of 2009," said Pete Sufka, head of the air-traffic controllers local union.
While the union does not have any say in the design or bid process, Sufka hopes the new tower will include more ground security.
"Currently, if someone decided they wanted to do something, there isn't anything that would stop them from driving their vehicle right up to the front door."
Passengers, he said, occasionally mistake the tower lot for airport parking.
Inman Construction was the other bidder.
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