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New air-control tower eyeing the skies over S.L.
State-of-the-art $17.5 million giant in service

Nearly three years after it was built, the 319-foot air-traffic control tower at Salt Lake City International Airport has been placed into service.

At midnight Monday, Federal Aviation Administration officials cut the cord and let the new tower fly on its own, after a weekend of monitoring its operations.Controllers began live operations in the tower located near the Delta Air Lines hangar at 2:55 a.m. Saturday. Initially, the FAA continued to staff the control center in the 96-foot tower that has served the airport for 30 years, just in case problems developed in the new one.

"Everything went smooth," said Tom Troske, operations director for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. "We didn't have any problems."

The $17.5 million tower and a $3.5 million Terminal Radar Control (TRACON) building were paid for with federal funds.

"The tower is higher, eliminating some visibility problems that we were having to deal," said Mitch Barker, a Seattle-based spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "The equipment is more reliable and we will have room for expansion."

Construction of the tower began in April 1995 and was completed in October '96. But in December 1996, after additional funds became available, the FAA decided to delay the tower's debut and build the new TRACON facility, then open both together. That move saved several million dollars, Barker told the Associated Press at the time.

But the rescheduled October 1998 opening was missed due to problems with a communication software program called Enhanced Terminal Voice Switch, Barker said Monday.

"After they developed it, when they did testing on it they found there were problems that needed to be rectified," which caused delays at other FAA facilities in the country, Barker said.

Tom Brown, the FAA's air traffic manager at Salt Lake International, said the new program will greatly improve controllers' ability to communicate with pilots and controllers at other airports.

The tower features 14 pieces of new equipment, Brown said. Like the old one, it will be used to control air traffic on the ground and within an 8- to 10-mile radius of the airport. Because of the old tower's lower elevation, video cameras were used to help controllers see some portions of the airport.

"We're able to see all the taxiways whereas before we had some that were behind buildings," Brown said. "This (tower) will take us well into the next millennium."

Another new feature, situated on top of the new tower, is an airport surface detection radar. It tracks the movement of planes on the ground.

At the peak of the day, about a dozen air-traffic controllers, their supervisors and support staff work in the 850-square-foot control cab atop the tower. A total of 61 FAA controllers, supervisors and support personnel will work in the tower and TRACON center.

"It was an extremely safe system before the move and it is an extremely safe system now, it just has some advantages," Troske said. "They were very cramped before. It (the old tower) had been modified so many times to accommodate their needs and now they have a state-of-the-art facility."