LaGuardia Preps for New Control Tower

LaGuardia Airport, a linchpin in the national aviation system, will soon have a new state-of-the-art control tower, federal and regional aviation officials announced at a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday morning at the airport's Marine Air Terminal.

LaGuardia's current tower, which is 43 years old and plagued by leaks, will be replaced with a $63-million structure that will have the latest air traffic technology. The changes will improve safety and increase efficiency, officials said.

"To all of the passengers who go through this airport, this new tower is for you," FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said before shoveling some ceremonial dirt into a small sandbox.

The new 233-foot-tall tower will provide controllers with better views of LaGuardia's two runways. It will also be equipped with an Airport Surface Detection System, which uses a combination of radar and sensors to display aircraft position and enhance safety.

The new tower is "bound to improve efficiency in terms of flight arrivals and departures," said William DeCota, director of aviation for The Port Authority. "The old tower is really just old and small. It was built back at a time when air travel was very different. "

Blakey said the taller tower will help LaGuardia's air traffic controllers better navigate what is "some of the most difficult and complicated airspace in the country" and that any improvements at LaGuardia would reverberate throughout the country.

LaGuardia is the nation's 17th busiest airport, with more than 406,000 arrivals and departures in 2006, according to FAA statistics.

The tower, to be built across from the central terminal, is scheduled to be completed by April 2009 and in full operation by June 2010.

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