MIAMI – Passengers, crew, workers, and many more spend hours at various airports across the globe. Besides spotting airplanes – the obvious, one thing that stands out at most airports is its Air Traffic Control Tower. Comprising a wide range of heights and designs, ATC towers are often seen as the iconic symbol of airports worldwide.

The Air Traffic Control Tower, or commonly referred to as just “tower,” is a tall building structure located at a strategic location that gives the best view of the entire airport area and its surroundings.

ATC towers have the specific function to provide clearances to aircraft taking off and to those in the vicinity that are set to land. The tower also provides ground separation to taxiing aircraft to maintain a safe orderly flow of movements.

Today, we will take a look at some of the most famous and iconic ATC towers built to date.

Photo: AUH

Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)


Standing 109m (358ft) tall, this 20 story structure built in 2011 is located between the two existing runways. It has a huge inward curve right from the base to the top which gives it a unique identity. The tower seats eight posts for air control and 12 for ground control.

Photo: https://www.arup.com/projects/Aviation

Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM)


Also known as GVK Sky Tower, the tower at the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport stands 84m tall. Its sleek curves and angularity bring forth the feel of flight and the adventure of travel.

The sloping skirts are present primarily as an architectural feature, but also break up the airflow around the tower, reducing the wind-induced vibrations.

Photo: IST

Istanbul New International Airport (IST)


The tower itself is inspired by a tulip, for many centuries a symbol of Istanbul and of importance to Turkish culture. The elliptical shape of the tower appears to be sculpted by the wind and the central atrium has a bespoke skylight, typical of Turkish historic buildings that feature spaces for bright light. The tower stands 95m tall.

JED TOWER. Photo: Areen Design via Vimeo

Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED)


The expansion of Jeddah’s existing airport site led to the development of a new terminal and a tower that stands at 136m in height with a 9m-long antenna. It has a rusty bright orange glaze on sunshine.

BKK TOWER. Photo: TEX ATC

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)


The third tallest air traffic control tower in the world measures 132.2 meters in height and sits exactly in the middle of its symmetric terminal. It features a “screw” like design with blue-tinted windows towards the top. The tower can handle around 76 aircraft movements an hour.

Photo: CDG

Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport – South Tower (CDG)


CDG boasts 3 ATC towers – North, south, and central.

The South tower established in 1999 is 85m tall with 22 floors, is specially dedicated for the 2twosouth air tracks. It is designed as a pencil and covered with a glass facade on top. Engineerd by Paul Andreu.

SYD. Photo: By J Bar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1658362

Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD)


Sydney’s tower is relatively short at 42.85m but comprises a cable-stayed pre-cast concrete shaft with an external passenger lift to the north. A spiral escape staircase sweeps around the concrete shaft, which is positioned just off-center of the circular single-story base building.

SIN. Photo: No machine-readable author provided. Mailer diablo assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Singapore Changi (SIN)


The Changi tower sits in between the first two runways and stands at about 81m above mean sea level.

It is undoubtedly the structure that represents ‘home’ to its citizens in a way that no other building does. The airport project was spearheaded and led by the then-Chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority Howe Yoon Chong. The landmark tower, once called “Airtropolis” can handle around 1,000 movements a day.

Photo: SFO

San Fransisco International Airport (SFO)


SFO airport and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) built a new Air Traffic Control Tower with the latest in technology and modern design. Standing 221 feet tall (67m), the new tower features an inviting, flared design clad in curved metal paneling Situated in the space between Terminals 1 and 2. The SFO tower can handle more than 1,000 movements a day.

EDI. Photo: M4kumba82, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Edinburgh Airport (EDI)


At 57m high and with a striking design, The tower’s shape resembles an upturned cone and is clad in zinc tiles. The air traffic control tower at Edinburgh stands out on the skyline and can be seen from most parts of the city. At night, lit up in an array of changing colors, it becomes even more of an icon.

Air Traffic Control Tower. Photo courtesy of King David the Builder International Airport.

Kutaisi Airport (KUT)


Kutaisi Tower in Georgia is 55m high and is designed to complement the design of the terminal. The exterior of the tower is clad with transparent skin with the potential to change color whenever there is a fluctuation in traffic. The Air Traffic Control Tower will function as a light beacon to the sky for the international airport.

ILD. Photo: Ferrovial

Lleida Alguaire Airport (ILD)


At 41m tall, this Spanish airport has a Corten steel-edged platform that snakes over the roof of the base and up each side of the tower. It consists of two main volumes: the tower, which houses the specific functions of aircraft control and immediate services; and the base, which receives the administrative, technical, and storage use.

London Heathrow Airport. Photo: LHR

London Heathrow Airport (LHR)


The tower at Heathrow provides a clear 360-degree cone of vision using tapered glass to counter glare. The tower is constructed from 12m lengths of the mast, a triangular in section, which provides the necessary aerodynamic profile for the shaft, which houses lifts, stairs, and services risers. The tower stands 87m tall.  


Featured image: USAF Photo/ TSgt P. R. Miller / Public Domain