Real Opa-locka air tower to replace trailer

Aug. 29--The makeshift air traffic control "tower" at Opa-locka Executive Airport -- a small travel trailer perched atop cargo containers -- is heading for the Dumpster of South Florida history.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek announced Tuesday that his office has secured a $4.2 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to build an $11 million permanent tower at the airport by late 2009.

"Opa-locka Executive Airport fulfills a vital transportation role in South Florida, and it requires a first-rate air traffic control tower, not a makeshift structure," said Meek, the lone Floridian on the House Ways and Means committee.

Wrangling over money between the county's Aviation Department and the FAA had stalled construction of a new 200-foot tower to replace the unsafe, neglected and undermaintained original that was whacked by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

The Federal Aviation Administration moved into the temporary trailer perched atop the welded-together cargo containers in May 2006.

Controllers must climb a ladder to get inside. And the tower is only 33 feet off the ground, meaning controllers can't see the entire airfield.

"I guess you can call it a piece of modern art," Charles Danger, Miami-Dade County's top building official, told The Miami Herald in June 2006. "This is not a structure that meets any code whatsoever."

Opa-locka was one of the busiest airports in the nation in the 1960s for general aviation traffic. But the airport has been in decline, and the number of takeoffs and landings are down from about 650,000 annually in the 1960s to about 150,000 today.

While the airfield still hosts the U.S. Coast Guard's Air Station Miami and maintenance facilities for large commercial aircraft that cannot be accommodated by Miami International Airport, several buildings at Opa-locka are in disrepair.

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