O'Hare Unveils New Control Tower

By Phil Rogers
|  Thursday, Jul 30, 2009  |  Updated 1:42 PM CDT
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Inside Views of O'Hare's New $65 Million Control Tower

Phil Rogers

O'Hare Airport unveiled its new $65 million control tower Tuesday, with a unique design for better views.

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Chicago has a new highrise on the horizon, but in this one, all of the activity is at the top.  It's the new control tower at O'Hare.  The tower was unveiled Tuesday by the city of Chicago and the FAA, and it has a very specific purpose.

The tower will handle traffic only on the airport's new north runway, 9-left 27-right, the first new O'Hare runway since 1971. Built at a cost of $65 million, the new tower took just over two years to build. It features a unique cantilever design for better visibility, and on its base building, a "green roof," which has been an environmental hallmark of many recent city projects.  

The new north runway is so far north, that it is out of the vantage point of controllers at the current tower, familiar to travellers as the giant structure adjacent to the terminals.  Line of sight for controllers is critical, so with the construction of the new runway,  the new tower became an unavoidable necessity.  Pilots will be transferred from a tower controller in the new control tower, to a ground controller, who will manage their transition to the terminals by handing them off to a controller in the existing tower.

O'Hare's planners, along with the FAA, believe the addition of the new runways, along with the new alignment of runways to an east-west configuration, will result in fewer delays, especially in inclement weather.  Initially, the new north runway will provide only minimal relief.   It will be used only for arrivals, and will operate only until 10pm, to accomodate O'Hare noise abatement restrictions.

Bill Mumper, the air traffic manager at O'Hare, says the new runway will receive arrivals almost exclusively from the east to the west.  "With the west trip arrivals, we should have 112 arrival rate, which is gonna be far greater than anything we've got right now."

During initial planning and modeling for the new runway and tower, some controllers complained that they were detecting long taxi times for arriving aircraft, in some cases running up to 45 minutes from touchdown to arrival at the gate.  FAA officials say they do not believe the actual times will be that long.  "When you grow an airport to a large footprint, taxi times will undoubtedly grow along with that," says Barry Cooper, regional administrator of the FAA.  "We know from our modeling analysis, the reduction in delay time will far exceed the delay in taxi time, so the end result to the passenger is a good result."

The runway and tower officially open for business November 20th.  President Bush has been invited to be the first arrival, aboard Air Force One.

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