SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday dedicated the world's most technologically advanced air traffic control tower, a building that took six years to complete.
Designed to resemble a torch that guided sailing ships to safe harbor, the new air traffic control tower is expected to officially start operating Saturday.
In a striking departure from similar aviation projects, SFO and the Federal Aviation Administration shared the $126 million price tag to build the tower, an attempt to cut costs and red tape.
"SFO designed the tower and it oversaw the construction work while assuring that the tower was built to FAA specifications," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who traveled from Washington D.C. for the event.
Seismically speaking, the SFO tower was built for strength and reliability.
"(It was) designed to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake (and) to be immediately operational following such an event," said airport Director Ivar Satero.
The new tower was first proposed shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake, which damaged the current tower. The new structure is just 50 feet taller than the old but it is high enough to get the job done for the employees who will direct incoming and departing planes.
"It gives air traffic controllers a much better view of four critical runway intersections that they control for arriving and departing aircraft," said Jerry Johnston, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
The previous decades-old system of using paper strips from one controller to another to identify and track airplanes will remain in effect until aviation officials are completely certain that the new state-of-the-art set-up is sufficient.
The San Francisco airport, which serves 500,000 flights and 16 million passengers a year, is on a roll.
"We are at the very beginning of a $5.7 billion capital program (that includes) this tower, major terminal renovations, a Grand Hyatt Hotel on airport and so many other conveniences and amenities," Satero said.
All of this creates a multiplier effect for the wide economy that depends heavily on passenger airlines and air cargo.
Huerta said 5 percent of the country's gross domestic product and 12 million American jobs depend on aviation and aerospace. "In the Bay Area it's a huge contributor." he said.
By KTVU reporter Tom Vacar