New control tower up and running at LaGuardia

After 15 years of design and construction, LaGuardia Airport switched from its old to a new air traffic control tower at midnight Saturday without a hitch.

"We're running airplanes normally," said Bill McLoughlin, an air traffic controller who is also the representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers' union. "It's all working well . . . It's a very complex switch-over. The engineers and technicians did a fantastic job."

The last arrival in the old tower was issued by air traffic controller Joseph Licini, and the first departure in the new tower by his colleague, Christopher Michaels. Both were chosen for the honor because of their many decades of service, said McLoughlin.

The $100-million modern facility replaces a cramped 46-year-old tower, and was designed for better visibility and more complex technology, including a radar system that gives superior data on aircraft movements on runways and taxiways, as well as transponder information about a plane's destination, allowing better sequence of departure routes, which should help reduce delays, said officials for the Federal Aviation Administration. Visibility at its 233-feet height allows 360-degree visibility.

The "cab," or working area for controllers, is fitted with fiber-optic cables for voice and data transmission, which will help communication between pilots and controllers. It also has the ability to accommodate NextGen, a satellite-based air-traffic-control system the FAA says eventually will replace the current radar-based system.

"We're working in the most modern and current traffic control facility in the world," McLoughlin said, "It's right here, right in New York City."

On typical weekdays, about 14 air traffic controllers and support personnel work there, and just as many managers and technical support personnel, FAA officials said. The new tower includes administrative offices. In 2009, about 22.1 million passengers traveled through LaGuardia.

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