New McCarran air traffic control tower to debut Aug. 28

Eight months behind schedule, the new air traffic control tower at McCarran International Airport is finally cleared to open Aug. 28.

The $99 million facility was delayed by two government shutdowns, followed by the discovery of a massive construction error.

With the remediation complete, air traffic controllers are undergoing intense training before they settle into the 352-foot tower that provides wide views of jetliners passing through the nation’s ninth-busiest airport.

“It’s critical for us to continually reinvest in airports and air traffic control facilities to maintain the health of our aviation system,” Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said. “Safety is the FAA’s primary mission and top priority, and the new tower and approach control at McCarran are important parts of our never-ending work to enhance the safety and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

The tower is coming online as McCarran reports a surge in passenger traffic not seen since the Great Recession. The airport served 530,330 flights last year, nearly quadruple the 140,000 flights recorded when the current tower opened in 1983, McCarran and FAA officials said.

Also, ongoing growth around McCarran has created blind spots for controllers working in the current 185-foot tower.

Standing twice as tall, the new tower delivers unobstructed views of the airfield. The 40 controllers working in the new tower’s top floor, known as the cab, will have 850 square feet of office space, far more than the current 525 square feet.

The new facility includes a two-level parking garage, a guard station and a 52,800-square-foot, four-story office building at the tower’s base for Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, where another 49 controllers will manage airborne planes within a 40-mile radius of McCarran’s airspace.

“The height of the building and the improved line of sight will allow controllers to increase the already extremely high level of safety,” said Jamaal Haltom, who has worked 17 years as a controller and worked atop the McCarran tower since 2010.

“The vantage point that the height provides will allow controllers to spot potential conflicts in an even more timely manner than before,” Haltom said. “The updated equipment and technology will allow controllers to spend more time making safety observations out of the windows.”

The current tower, deemed obsolete after guiding more than 1 billion travelers to safe landings, eventually will be demolished like many older Las Vegas hotels. A pair of adjoining buildings probably will be put to another use, but airport officials said it is too soon to provide details.

“As the community has grown, so has its airport, and it’s appropriate that McCarran’s supporting facilities continue to evolve as well,” Clark County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis said. “We’re confident the FAA’s new, state-of-the-art tower will enjoy a long and productive run similar to that of its predecessor.”

REPEATED DELAYS

Construction started in May 2011 but came to a standstill just two months later when Congress reached an impasse on whether to reauthorize the FAA. The stalemate led to a two-week partial shutdown of the FAA and placed about 4,000 employees on furlough, including engineers who oversaw construction of the tower.

When the engineers returned to work, the contractor needed “a bit of time to ramp the operations back up,” Gregor said.

The basic structure of McCarran’s tower rose high above the airfield as workers installed electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. But in October 2013 construction came to a second standstill, as FAA engineers again were pulled off the work site when Congress failed to adopt a new budget, leading to a 16-day government shutdown that affected more than 800,000 federal workers.

Shortly after construction resumed, a serious error was spotted in early 2014. A chemical coating was supposed to be placed within walls, ducts and other dry areas of the structure to curb stachybotrys chartarum, a black mold that causes flu-like symptoms and prompted the closure of several buildings when it was detected in the Las Vegas Valley in the late 1990s.

At the time, workers on the jobsite told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the chemical was placed in flexible ducts that were lubricated for installation, but the coating never adhered to the oily surfaces. As a result, flakes of the substance blew into rooms when crews tested the air conditioning and heating system.

The contractor, Walsh Construction of Chicago, removed and replaced the duct system over several months, the FAA said. It was unclear how much it cost to complete the work.

Executives at Walsh Construction did not return phone calls seeking comment.

MOVING IN

When the ducting repairs were completed last summer, the FAA began installing electronics and traffic control equipment.

During the first few months of operation, controllers will use the tried-but-true system of passing along paper strips to each other as a way to track planes at McCarran. By the start of 2017, they will switch to an automated electronic flight system that helps track planes leaving Las Vegas airspace and relays the information to ground control, Gregor said.

The technology, part of the FAA’s NextGen program to transition to satellite-based communications systems by 2025, is in place at airports in Newark, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Phoenix.

“For years, NextGen has been looked at as a catchphrase, but this summer it becomes a reality for McCarran and its travelers,” said Anthony Borgert, who has worked for the past 10 years at the TRACON facility in Las Vegas.

Before that happens, controllers are undergoing tests, starting with a high-tech simulator that re-creates the view from McCarran’s new tower, allowing them to give commands to faux jetliners landing, taking off and maneuvering around the airfield.

Once that’s mastered, controllers will spend time in the new tower, where they will listen to colleagues giving air traffic orders from the old tower. The lesson is aimed at giving controllers some perspective on how those commands will look from the new structure.

Controllers officially will move to the new tower Aug. 28, but a few workers will remain in the old tower for a couple of days to keep an eye on airfield traffic to ensure a smooth transition.

“Everyone will be familiar with the view, the tower, the equipment and what they’re supposed to do,” Gregor said.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

Local Videos
Property Brothers visit Michael’s in Las Vegas Valley
Twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott are the hosts of Property Brothers, the hit HGTV show where they help couples find fixer-uppers and transform them into dream homes. In 2018, the brothers collaborated with Michael's on their first custom framing program. Today they're releasing new frames into that collection that range from natural to bright looking. Jonathan and Drew discuss their brand and why frames was something they wanted to pursue. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 traffic jam
A semitrailer stopped in the middle of Interstate 15 near Charleston Boulevard has slowed traffic in central Las Vegas Wednesday morning, April 17, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rainy Tuesday
The Las Vegas Valley saw cooler temperatures and rain Tuesday afternoon. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Tiger Woods Bettor Collects
James Adducci bet $85k on Tiger Woods to win the Masters. He collected his $1.19M from William Hill sports bet in the SLS today. (Mat Luschek /Review-Journal)
Endangered frogs released at Springs Preserve
Dozens of endangered Relic Leopard Frogs were released at the Cotton Grove inside Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Thursday, April 11, 2019
Vintage World War II aircraft arrive at Henderson Executive Airport
The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour comes to Henderson Executive Airport with a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang and a P-40 Warhawk. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring Pearl Harbor veteran
Ed Hall, a Pearl Harbor veteran in Las Vegas, is honored with Quilt of Valor during an event in a Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzo/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Anthropology professors excavate Maya ruin site of Caracol, Belize for 36 years
The husband-and-wife team of UNLV anthropologists has spent several months a year at the remote site of Caracol in the jungles of Belize, excavating ruins and uncovering secrets from the region’s once-dominant civilization. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Things to remember when adopting a rabbit this Easter season
As Easter and spring time approach, some people may be tempted to adopt a rabbit for the holiday. But like adopting any animal, it is important to be responsible and know what a rabbit requires to be a happy, healthy pet. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bike Giveaway in Las Vegas - Piero’s Italian Cuisine
Evan Glusman of Piero’s Italian Cuisine hosted a party in the restaurant’s parking lot to distribute over 150 bikes to local kids. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Charleston/I-15 ramp configuration
The new Interstate 15/ Charleston Boulevard ramp configuration was unveiled Tuesday morning. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Northwest Vegas farm's abandoned pig problem
Someone abandoned a several hundred pound pig at Sharon Linsenbardt's farm. Her farm is a rescue for animals, but she doesn't have room or resources to take on another such creature, so she's asking the community for help. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Chalk Talk: Black Student Union
Students talk about the Black Student Union in the latest episode of Chalk Talk. (Angus Kelly and Amelia Pak-Harvey/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Individuals with Parkinson's Disease participate in dance class
Pamela Lappen leads a dance class for individuals with Parkinson's Disease at the Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Review-Journal
Animal Foundation Preps Pups For Best In Show
The Las Vegas Animal Foundation is preparing its prime pups for their 16th annual Best in Show event, which takes place at the end of April. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Dog Yoga At Hydrant Club
The Hydrant Club in downtown Las Vegas, is a social club for dogs and their people. Recently the club started hosting dog yoga. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Butterflies At The Springs Preserve
The butterfly habitat is now open at the Springs Preserve. Learn about butterflies and take in the peaceful surroundings. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Conservatory's spring display has a Japanese theme
The Bellagio's conservatory is hosting around 65,000 flowers, to form a Japanese theme this spring. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing