11 May 2022

Awesome Air Traffic Control Towers Across the World

Air Traffic Control Tower lovers of the world unite. Here is a selection of ten of the best and more unusual in the world, including the one at Los Angeles above. Whether your own favorite is listed here, these structures have functionality and are designed to fit their own particular environment but also have a strange beauty all their own.

Air Traffic Control Towers are not as ubiquitous as you may think. Most people when asked would say that every airport has one, but this is simply because their height and shape had wormed its way in to the general consciousness, due not least to the plethora of disaster movies centered on airports. It is only the busiest of airports that have towers, such as the one above at Haneda airport which serves the Tokyo metropolis.

One control tower may not be enough. Although the bulk of flights are internal, Haneda has more recently been expanding its international flights throughout South East Asia. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower and its peripheral building look like stacks of casino chips, ready to be bet on the roulette wheel.

The new dwarfs the old.  Opened in 2010 it may not look that much bigger than the old one from some angles. Yet this tower does just that - it towers!

Asia holds the record at the moment for the tallest control tower in the world. While it is by no means the most aesthetically pleasing, the Suwannabhumi airport tower in Thailand has a minimalist look that belies the hive of activity inside. The airport itself, known as the New Bangkok, only opened in 2006 and so it is perhaps expected that such a new facility should boast the biggest in the world. It is an amazing 132.2 meters in height. The ATC system has a primary goal – to keep aircraft in the air (and on the ground) separate and away from each other.

A general feature of air traffic control towers are their height. Although Australia is more renowned for its down to earth humor than its architecture there are many building, such as the Opera House in Sydney Harbor which are famous the world over. Although unlikely to overtake the Opera House in terms of architectural iconography, the air traffic control tower at Sydney airport must come in a close second. Although by no means the highest in the world – or even the top ten – its remarkable shape makes it truly memorable.

Although this has no military purpose, many ATC systems have a military defense role, such as in the USA. Surprisingly, if you go to Brazil you will find their entire civilian ATC system run by the military.

The twists and turns of the Vienna Airport make it unique and so do the laser shows that it often puts on after dark. The airport itself is known locally as Schwechat and in 2005 this new tower replaced the existing one. It has dual functionality – air control staff have their work stations at its base and there are observation areas at the top.

The ingenious design won a European Steel Design Award for the innovatory techniques used in its design.

Orlando airport in Florida has the tallest Control Tower in North America, at 345 feet. If you count the lightning rods at the top then it extends to almost four hundred feet. That is almost twice the height of the old tower.

However, it does mean that AT controllers can now see the whole of the airport and this has already been proven to improve safety. The city of Atlanta ended up paying the lion’s share of the $44 million that it cost. Worth every penny!

Arlanda in Sweden has my vote for one of the most unusual towers. It reminds me of the Egyptian Sand Dance with extended hands at opposing angles to each other. Others see Darth Vader's head - and you can see why!

Serving Stockhlom, Sweden, Arlanda is the third largest airport in the Nordic countries and Sweden, renowned for design, does not disappoint with its control tower. A majority of Swedish people speak English as well as their own language, which is useful as English is the primary language of air traffic control and, if requested, it must be used according to the rules of the ICAO – the international aviation organization.

Madrid Barajas airport has this wonderful shining example of an ATC tower. It has a rather art-deco feel to it and the jury is always out as to what exactly it resembles the most.

Is it an alien space ship perched precariously on top of some kind of refueling structure? Or is it a slightly squished tugboat coming at you through the air? Whatever your own particular take, it must take a deal of scrubbing to keep its exterior so glistening.

The Los Angeles International ATC tower, although only less than twenty years old, harkens back to the era of the twenties in its design. Its slick and elegant design belies the problems that it had during its design and construction.

It took three building code agencies to confirm that it was ATC worthy. Noted for its controversial design, the tower has proven popular over time and is now seen as a superb example of magnificent high-function engineering and loved for its subtle and artistic design – in a city not usually known for its subtlety.

This is the solid ATC tower as many people imagine it and the tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is a huge edifice. The airport got the change of name in 1998 (something to which President Clinton agreed, which please some and angered many). Somehow this tower also seems to belong to an older age, but was part of the 1997 construction of terminals B/C which cost twenty five million dollars.

Baghdad International airport has seen some traffic over the last seven years. It still retains its pre-invasion three letter International Air Transport Association (IATA) airport code, which is SDA. This was as a result of a chap called Saddam naming the airport after himself. Up until recently aircraft taking off would give the ATC guys extra work as they had to adopt what is called a ‘corkscrew’ maneuver to take off and land.

This is a pattern of descending and ascending right above the airport in order to avoid any missiles and other small arms coming at them from the ground. Think of the shape of a corkscrew and shudder – it really is a good description.

Readers' Favorites
Do you have a favorite ATC Tower? Let us know and we will try to post up some great pictures of it! We will start the ball rolling by including this one at Edinburgh in Scotland.  The sleekness of the design is quite amazing - and the fact it looks like a giant vase just makes it even better.  Let us know your favorite - and the reasons!