July 16, 2008

Wittman Gets New Tower


Oshkosh -- EAA AirVenture visitors who use the air traffic control tower to get their bearings on the sprawling grounds will soon have another landmark to use.

Federal Aviation Administration officials on Tuesday unveiled the new tower at Wittman Regional Airport. At 141 feet, it's more than twice as high as the old tower, which has been used since the early 1960s.

The new tower, which cost about $6.4 million, will provide better sightlines for air traffic controllers who handle takeoffs and landings year-round as well as for the popular weeklong aviation convention and fly-in, said Wanda Adelman, FAA district manager for air traffic operations in Wisconsin and the Lake District.

"The old tower really needed to be replaced," Adelman said during a tour of the new structure. "It was built a little bit bigger because of AirVenture. With that amount of traffic, we really needed a tower this size."

AirVenture it draws thousands of planes and visitors as well air traffic controllers from other facilities who vie for the coveted positions of being air traffic controllers for the convention each year. This year's AirVenture is July 28 through Aug. 3.

Tiny Wittman airport is the busiest airport in the world on a few of the days of AirVenture, according to FAA statistics. Last year on July 22, the day before the convention officially started, controllers at Wittman handled 2,941 departures and landings, while O'Hare in Chicago had 2,642 and Atlanta's airport handled 2,887. On the Wednesday of last year's AirVenture, Oshkosh was again the busiest airport in the world.

Adelman pointed out that Wittman was open only 10 hours on those days, while O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson compiled their numbers of departures and landings in 24-hour periods.

The new tower is 116 feet from ground level to the floor of the 525-square-foot tower cab, where the controllers work. It's 141 feet from the ground to the top of the roof antenna. The old tower was a bit tighter -- the cab was 24 feet by 24 feet and 57 feet tall at controller eye height.

Marty Sweeney, an air traffic controller full time in Oshkosh for 12 years, likes the new tower. He and the other permanent Oshkosh controllers began using it July 1.

"It's incredible, very helpful with plotting aircraft," Sweeney said as he guided a Cessna 172 in for a landing Tuesday.

The old tower will be demolished in late September or early October.

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