SFO previews new state-of-the-art control tower

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Another landmark is now joining the likes of the new Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate, Coit Tower and the Fisherman's Wharf sign.

San Francisco Airport previewed its new state-of-the-art control tower Thursday. Construction that began almost two years ago is now complete.

Rising 221 feet from the ground, the tower is reminiscent of torches that once used to help sailing ships find San Francisco Bay. Soon, the tower will guide airships to the city by the Bay.

"We knew that there was a functional requirement to create a new facility, but from an airport perspective, we wanted an iconic landmark," says Doug Yakel, San Francisco Airport's chief spokesman.

It will allow controllers to see much more of the field than can be seen from the current tower 40 feet below as the airport expands.

"They build buildings and hangers and those things can begin to impede on the line of sight. So, raising the tower is important to get our perch back up over those buildings," says Glen Martin, FAA Regional Western Region Administrator.

The Federal Aviation Administration will need another year or so to equip the tower with the latest and greatest air safety technologies, including new ground radars and runway intrusion status sensors; critical for fog low visibility and night time operations.

When done, the new tower will replace the current 34-year-old tower, which sits on a foundation built 61 years and 11 U.S. Presidents ago.

This is a super critical lifeline operation. That means, it can stand up to an 8 point magnitude earthquake and still remain in operation.

"There was a safety requirement to build a new structure that met all of those stringent news seismic requirements," says Yakel. "Airports are absolutely critical in the case of a disaster. Whether it's bringing the people in that we need to help with relief, whether it's bringing supplies," says the FAA's Martin.

When the tower goes online by August of next year, it will join the new ultra-modern Oakland Airport Tower which opened 18 months ago. New towers for Reno and Las Vegas are already underway.