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McCarran air traffic controllers begin using new $99M control tower

Up to 40 air traffic controllers will work at the top of the new $99 million facility at McCarran International Airport while 49 more can be housed in a facility at the base of the 352-foot-tall tower that began operations Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. (Travis Marshall/KSNV)

More than a year behind schedule, air traffic controllers at McCarran International Airport began using a $99 million, 352-foot tall control tower early today.

The switch from the current tower began in the early morning hours, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

Work on the new facility began in May 2011, but was stalled by two government furloughs and later the discovery of a massive construction error related to the coating of interior panels.

"The commissioning of the new Las Vegas tower/TRACON was delayed by about eight months due to factors including government shutdowns in 2011 and 2013, and problems with the ducting," Gregor said in an email. "With each shutdown, FAA engineers who supervise the work were furloughed, so the construction had to stop. Once the engineers returned to work, it took the contractor some time to ramp the operation back up. The contractor replaced the original ductwork due to problems with its anti-microbial coating."

The facility has space for 40 air traffic controllers to monitor aircraft at the nation's eighth-busiest airport. The facility also includes a two-level parking garage, a guard station and a 52,800-square-foot, four-story office building for Terminal Radar Approach Control, where another 49 controllers will work.

McCarran 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.

The airport is on pace to perhaps surpass its record passenger load in 2007 when more than 42 million fliers used the facility.

McCarran handled more than 4.1 million passengers in July, marking another month of growth. Passenger traffic was up 2.6 percent last month compared to July 2015.

"After three years of hard work, McCarran Airport's new air traffic control tower is now able to better serve our visitors and provide hundreds of jobs for Nevadans. As our state continues to grow and diversify, we must continue to invest in Nevada's future. That is why I worked so hard to help make this project a reality," said Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. "Air traffic controllers have one of the most important jobs, and this tower affords them a tool necessary to perform at their highest level. Meeting safety demands is paramount to maintaining McCarran's status as a state-of-the-art airport and to ensuring Las Vegas remains a premier tourist destination. I look forward to seeing further progress in the Silver State."

When the original tower opened in 1983, the airport served an average of 140,000 flights a year. The 352-foot tower, double the height of the original tower, is the second-tallest air traffic control tower in the country and can better serve the more than 500,000 flights the airport averages each year, Reid said in a news release.

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