City officials will cut the ribbon this week on the new control tower at the Boise airport. The tower is 268 feet tall, right in between the height of Idaho’s two tallest buildings in downtown Boise. The $30 million facility actually started full operations last month, about five years after construction began.
It’s south of the runways, a location which airport director Rebecca Hupp says provides better visibility than the old tower right next to the terminal. But there are some people who work in the tower who don’t need visibility at all.
“It will also house the TRACON, which is the Terminal Radar Control Facility, for both Boise and Bozeman Montana,” Hupp says.
Unlike most air traffic controllers, TRACON operators work in windowless rooms to better see radar screens. They use those to guide planes to within an airport’s airspace (about five miles out for an airport Boise’s size.) Then other air traffic controllers take over. Since operators don’t need to see outside, some TRACON facilities are housed far from the airports they serve.
But there’s some irony to Boise handling TRACON for Bozeman. Back in 2009 the FAA wanted to move Boise’s TRACON operations to Salt Lake City to save money. But Idaho’s congressional delegation and Boise’s mayor lobbied against that. They didn’t want to lose those operator jobs to another city. They argued Boise’s unique location surrounded by mountains required personal knowledge of the area to guide planes in safely. In 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood canceled the move, though Hupp says it wasn't because of the lobbying effort.
“In the end it was decided it did not save any money by moving it to another location,” she says.
This situation is different than the previous one because Bozeman is OK with people in Boise guiding its planes. A press release from officials at the Bozeman airport touts it as a safety improvement. Bozeman didn’t have TRACON at all before.
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