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updated: 6/13/2013 3:55 PM

Work starts on new O'Hare air traffic control tower

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  • Illustration courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration The new south air traffic control tower at O'Hare International Airport will open in fall 2015.

    Illustration courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration The new south air traffic control tower at O'Hare International Airport will open in fall 2015.


What's 219 feet tall, requires 50 tons of steel and costs $30 million to build?

The new air traffic control tower on the south side of O'Hare International Airport that's expected to start rising from the ground soon.

Crews started moving earth for the facility this week on the far south end of O'Hare, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The tower is scheduled to open in fall 2015 at the same time as a new far south runway is commissioned. It's a key component of an ambitious and costly redesign of O'Hare field to establish a parallel runway system instead of the crisscross layout in place now.

This is the second air traffic control tower to be built at O'Hare in recent years. A new tower on the north side of the airfield was completed in November 2008 to serve aircraft using an adjacent runway that was commissioned at the same time.

Here are some quick facts about the latest high-rise at O'Hare:

• It's 219 feet to the top of the roof antennas and 194 feet from the ground to a controller's eye level. In comparison, the iconic main control tower at O'Hare is 260 feet to the top of the antennas and 236 at eye level.

• The glassed-in workspace where controllers scrutinize flights is called a cab and measures 440 square feet. The cab in the main tower is 1,050 square feet.

• Why is a third tower necessary? "Controllers in the main tower can't see every part of the new south runway and the taxiways around it and you have to have a visual of the entire area to control the traffic," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro explained. It's for those same reasons the north control tower was built.

• Eight window panes will encircle the cab, each measuring 8.75 feet by 11 feet.

• Five air traffic controllers will handle operations on the south runway. South tower hours will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• The far-south runway is known as 10R/28L or 10 Right/28 Left.

Building the tower and runway wasn't just a matter of laying concrete. Hundreds of homes and businesses in Bensenville were acquired and demolished by the city of Chicago in preparation for the south segment of the O'Hare Modernization Program. In addition, York and Irving Park Roads were reconfigured to accommodate the expansion.

Another milestone in the controversial modernization project will occur Oct. 17 when Runway 10C/28C (Center) is commissioned. This runway's progress was delayed because of lawsuits over the historical St. Johannes Cemetery, which was located in the middle.

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