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Wed, Mar 03, 2004

FAA Taps Memphis Airport For 307-foot Tower

New Design Dwarfs Existing Facility

The FAA will build a new $25 million air traffic control tower at Memphis International Airport, and a new road network will be established at the airport to complement the tower's construction. The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority already has plans in place to restructure the roads and the FAA's new tower will be coordinated along with that effort, says airport director of development Robert Beesley. "We have to move the roads for our good reasons," Beesley says. "It just so happens we're moving the roads for them (FAA). We need to coordinate their efforts and our efforts so we don't step on each other's toes out there in front of the terminal."

The new 307-foot tower will dwarf the existing 185-foot tower. The tower's base building will also be significantly larger than the existing building, expanding from about 20,000-square-feet to a two-story, 30,000-square-foot structure. "It's really going to help the image of the airport and give us some functionality we don't have," says Neda White, national airspace system plan manager with the FAA's Memphis Systems Maintenance office.

The new tower is necessary because the Memphis airport has basically outgrown its current tower, says Glen Beaupre, FAA regional account manager for air traffic organization terminal services. He says a lot of research and development is done in Memphis, including research for ground base sensor technology. The Safe Flight 21 program takes technology provided to pilots to a higher level, giving them the ability to uplink radar information about other aircraft, weather and terrain maps.

The new tower is 35 percent through its design phase. The government has allocated $1.47 million for advanced engineering and design, but because the tower's funding has to be appropriated by Congress, exact timelines are difficult to measure, says Christopher White, spokesman for the FAA.  A final design could be completed by March 2005, Neda White says, and once the funds are allocated, construction is expected to take about 18 months.

The $16 million roadway construction program will change the way drivers enter the airport. Currently, inbound traffic moves through the center of the airport's property before making a wide, right turn to reach the terminal and baggage claim areas. Outbound traffic duplicates that path and also moves through the centered traffic signal. With the new system, outbound traffic will not have to curve back through the center traffic signal and can simply exit the airport on the right side of the new tower. The airport authority will also be shifting the entrance roadway farther to the right side of the tower, thus eliminating the need for a traffic signal. The outbound path will be constructed first, so the FAA can build its tower in between the in- and outbound roadways. Construction for outbound will begin in late 2004 or 2005, Beesley says, but the inbound follow-up project has not inked out a timeline.
 
The old tower, built in 1977, is also not high enough for future airport growth and construction plans, Neda White says. At its current height, the controller's sight is impeded on some movement areas due to airport expansion, but this visibility will be improved with the tower's new height. The new tower's location will be slightly west of where the current tower stands. The FAA studied 16 different site locations, but decided the spot closest to the old tower was the most strategic. Although these projects are years from fruition, airport traffic will eventually enter and exit in a circular path around the new tower without coming through any central traffic impediments. Aesthetic improvements are planned for the tower and base building, including updated landscaping, fencing and signage.

FMI: http://www.mscaa.com

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