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Published: Monday, 7/14/2003

Push for new airport tower heads to D.C.

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

At the time, port officials hoped the replacement for the poorly placed, undersized tower might be under construction within 18 months.

Seven years later, nobody seems to be estimating exactly when the tower might be built.

Now, James Hartung, the port authority's president, plans to travel to Washington later this month to press the issue.

“Certainly, we get frustrated with how long this is taking,” he said. “We've been going through these machinations with the FAA for seven years now.”

Mr. Hartung said that while he understands the federal agency's need for “due diligence, sometimes their due diligence is painfully slow.

“We understand that Sept. 11 [terrorist attacks in 2001] threw everyone for a loop, and put them back on their heels. But it doesn't reduce the need to update and modernize the control tower,” he said.

Elizabeth Isham Cory, an FAA spokesman in Chicago, said a computer simulation of the design developed by a port authority architect is pending, but remains to be scheduled.

Taking site photos, writing a computer program, and loading all information into a computer normally takes six to eight weeks, Ms. Cory said. Then the actual simulation has to be squeezed into a busy schedule at the FAA's computer lab in Atlantic City, N.J., she said.

“With so many air traffic control tower replacement projects nationally, the list has to be prioritized and accomplished within the constraints of congressional funding each year,” Ms. Cory said.

Aides to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said the Toledo Democrat is arranging the meeting with FAA administrator Marion Blakey and Mr. Hartung.

“Delays in finalizing a plan for Toledo's new tower are certainly compounded by the revamping of the FAA post-9/11 and serious budgetary constraints at the federal level,” Miss Kaptur said in a statement. “Nonetheless, Toledo's proposal to finance construction of its own tower and allow the FAA to lease it back is innovative and must be put on the FAA's front burner.”

Traditional FAA construction funding for the project is unlikely before fiscal year 2006, which begins Oct. 1, 2005, Ms. Cory said. While a construction lease-back arrangement “is being evaluated to accelerate project funding,” the spokesman said, “the FAA has made no final decision on the issue of a construction lease-back project for this location.”

Interest in a new control tower started with air traffic controllers who said the current facility subjects controllers to sun glare on bright days because it faces south and is so short that they can't see the west end of the main runway.

The tower is perched 52 feet above the ground atop Toledo Express's passenger terminal.

David Gioffre, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers' Toledo local, said construction several years ago of the terminal's East Concourse partially obstructs the tower's view of the north end of the airport's crosswind runway too.

The proposed new tower would have a floor elevation of 134 feet, and an overall height of 160 feet, and be on the south side of the airfield near BAX Global's cargo hub.

The limited view from the current tower doesn't pose a safety threat at the airport, Mr. Gioffre said, but it does impede efficiency. If controllers could see every corner of the airfield, they could authorize certain aircraft taxiing maneuvers that would get airplanes into take-off position faster, he said.

“I'm not going to point any fingers, but it's kind of gotten old, all the different reasons” for delay, Mr. Gioffre said.

The recent start of monthly teleconferences between the port authority, the FAA, and the controllers' union suggests the project has taken on a higher priority, he added.



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