A massive concrete column looms above the terminals at Sky Harbor International Airport, giving passengers an idea of the huge scale of the airport's future control tower now under construction.
The column, which represents about two-thirds of the new tower's eventual height, will be topped by the air-traffic control room. From there, the Federal Aviation Administration staff will have a clear view of airport operations from more than 300 feet above the ground. The top of the control tower will be 320 feet high.
The $54 million FAA project, being built just east of the Terminal 3 parking garage, also includes a new building to house the Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON. That control center will have the newest generation of radar and weather technology to monitor regional aircraft and flying conditions. Along with the tower's aircraft-control system, Sky Harbor will become the most up-to-date airport in the country, according to the FAA.
The tower's height is designed to allow visibility over the terminals and other structures now and in the future.
"Oh, it will be gigantic," said FAA spokesman Donn Walker. "It will allow the ability to expand the airport even more and have good visibility from the tower.
"The taller the tower, the better the visibility," he said. "The better the visibility, the safer it is."
The new tower will replace the airport's current 181-foot tower built in 1977 on the west side of Terminal 3. That replaced one built in 1956, a 60-foot structure that still stands south of the runways near Cutter Aviation.
Sky Harbor has become one of the busiest airports in the nation, and the FAA project underscores the importance of the Phoenix facility as a transportation hub, said airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostriecher. The current tower and TRACON facility have become outmoded because of the airport's rapid growth.
"We will now have the appropriate size tower for the size airport we are," Ostriecher said.
The project, which also includes an adjacent FAA office building, was begun in May 2003 and should be completed by October or November. But its opening will be delayed 12 more months as FAA engineers hook up the electron-ics.
"It will take us a whole year to get in all the equipment, to get it all installed, and to get the fiber optics all in place," Walker said.