Palm Beach, Fla., Airport to Get $18 Million Control Tower

Mar. 22--To keep pace with air traffic growth, Palm Beach International Airport will be getting a new 25-story control tower at a cost of about $18 million.

But don't expect it anytime soon. The tower, twice as high as the existing 120-foot tower, is scheduled to be designed and constructed on the north side of the airport between 2007 and 2009, and go into operation in 2011.

"It will have the standard design for our intermediate activity towers," Kathleen Bergen, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

As part of that plan, the airport will lose its Terminal Radar Approach Control, which directs planes in and out of the area. That service will be shifted to Miami, about 60 miles away, in two to three years.

The FAA said the consolidation would save money and allow Palm Beach air traffic to be tracked under Miami's sophisticated radar systems.

"We've been consolidating radar services literally for decades," Bergen said. "When we do this, we make optimum use of the resources we have."

Miami radar controllers already guide planes in and out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The air traffic controllers' union, however, opposes the move, saying it could jeopardize safety.

Keeping the radar in Palm Beach adds "redundancy" in the air traffic system, which could be critical if a hurricane or other disaster were to disable the radar system in Miami, said Shane Ahern, president of the Palm Beach tower branch of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"Controllers might not even be able to get to work to staff the facility," he said.

The move also will require some of the 42 controllers based at PBIA to work in Miami. Ahern said he is appealing to Congress and local officials to stop the move.

"We're throwing up every red flag we can to get noticed," he said.

The FAA counters that the radar complex in Miami was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. In a letter sent to several Florida officials, including U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said it is a "common and time tested practice" for major radar complexes to service airports several miles away.

"It has no impact on the ability to accomplish any type of approach into an airport," she said.