The skyline at the airport is dominated by a building most passengers will never enter but is crucial to their safety—the air traffic control tower. These tall buildings tower over the terminal buildings and parking lots that make up the rest of the airport. While all air traffic control towers are tall, the ones on this list are truly out of this world.
Table of Contents
- 15. Orlando International Airport, USA
- 14. Indianapolis International Airport, USA
- 13. Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas, USA
- 12. Vienna International Airport, Austria
- 11. Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates
- 10. Cairo International Airport, Egypt
- 9. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China
- 8. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, USA
- 7. Wuhan Tianhe Airport, China
- 6. Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Japan
- 5. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, USA
- 4. Tower East, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Malaysia
- 3. Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi), Thailand
- 2. Tower West, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2), Malaysia
- 1. King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Air traffic control is a complicated process that requires constant communication with pilots and ground crews as well as monitoring the situation in the air and on the airport’s runways. While air traffic controllers use advanced technology to do this job, they also rely on good old-fashioned visual cues to monitor traffic. That’s when having a perch high in the sky comes in handy.
Recently, there’s been a movement into moving air traffic control centers to different buildings or further away from the airport altogether. Air traffic control towers are expensive to build because they are so tall and have to withstand winds, earthquakes, and all sorts of difficult conditions. However, many safety experts are against remote air traffic management, so it looks as though air traffic control towers are here to stay.
The appearance of the air traffic control tower depends on a few factors, including airport size, budget, and even design preferences. Here are the world’s tallest air traffic control towers.
15. Orlando International Airport, USA
Orlando International Airport in Florida has one of the tallest air traffic control towers in the United States and the world. It is 305 feet or 105 meters high. In 2002, when the tower was built, it was the tallest air traffic control tower in the United States.
The tower was built in the early 21st century to replace an air traffic control tower that was a whole 126 feet lower than the current structure—positively puny by air traffic control tower standards. The larger tower allowed the airport to expand further because, from their new vantage point, air traffic controllers could see further.
The plan clearly delivered its desired results because after the expansion, Orlando International Airport became one of the busiest airports in the United States.
14. Indianapolis International Airport, USA
The 14th-tallest air traffic control tower is also located in the United States at a seemingly unlikely airport—Indiana’s Indianapolis International Airport. The tower is 348 feet or 106 meters high.
When it was built in 2006, the new Indianapolis International Airport air traffic control tower was one of the tallest in the world and in the United States. Since then, few taller air traffic control towers have been built.
From their vantage point inside the tower, air traffic control operators can survey both of the airport’s parallel runways as well as the crosswind runway, which is in place in case of heavy winds.
13. Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas, USA
Las Vegas’s airport has been making several changes recently. Not only did it get a new name in 2021, switching from McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport, but it also got a new, renovated tower that same year. The new tower is 352 feet or 107 meters high.
Las Vegas International Airport is an unexpected player in the United States in terms of air traffic, recently becoming the 9th-busiest airport in the country. As such, it needed a new control tower that could survey all of the incoming traffic.
The renovated tower boasts more office space, no more blind spots, and designated office space at the base for Terminal Radar Approach Control.
12. Vienna International Airport, Austria
The tallest air traffic control tower in Europe is the newly built one at Vienna International Airport in Austria. The tower is 109 meters tall, looming over the airport. It was built in 2006 and is one of Europe’s most modern air traffic control towers as well.
The air traffic control tower at Vienna International Airport contains many important facilities guaranteeing the safety of travelers to Central Europe. These include an air traffic control base and space at the tower for visual surveillance of the airport.
The architects who designed this air traffic control tower did not just have functionality in mind. It is one of the most distinctive air traffic control towers in the world, with a silhouette that twists 45 degrees as the tower rises and a body covered with an undulating PTFE membrane that doubles as a projection screen when necessary.
11. Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates
Dubai’s airport may be the one that gets the most attention in the United Arab Emirates but compared to the air traffic control tower at Abu Dhabi International Airport, it is positively puny. That’s because the air traffic control tower at this airport stands at a whopping 109 meters tall.
The height is not the only remarkable thing about this air traffic control tower. The shape is different from that of a typical air traffic control tower. Instead of rising straight up into the sky, it creates a sweeping wave-like silhouette. Paired with the surrounding desert landscape, it makes for a striking visual as you fly into the airport.
Many architects like designing air traffic control towers because they can combine form and function. The futuristic design of Abu Dhabi’s tower certainly shows this playfulness at work.
10. Cairo International Airport, Egypt
The air traffic control tower at Cairo International Airport is one of the tallest in the world and the tallest on the continent of Africa. It stands at 110 meters or 361 feet tall.
The control tower is a very modern addition since it was only built in 2010. The airport anticipated growth in traffic (which did grow, making Cairo one of the busiest airports in Africa) and built a taller tower that could cover a larger area and govern more traffic.
Now the second-busiest airport in Africa and home to the tallest air traffic control tower on the continent, Cairo International Airport has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings as an airfield for the United States military during World War Two.
9. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is one of China’s largest and busiest airports, so it makes sense that it would also boast one of the tallest air traffic control towers. Its tower also stands at 110 meters, or 361 feet.
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is a relative newcomer to the world of the planet’s top airports, but it has taken the field by storm thanks to China’s growing aeronautics industry. In 2020, it was actually the busiest airport in the world, although Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport regained the title once pandemic restrictions eased.
Busy airports tend to have taller air traffic control towers because the operators need to see all the runways from their vantage points.
8. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, USA
The air traffic control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport may not be the tallest tower on this list, but it certainly is one of the newest. That’s because the tower just opened in the spring of 2022. The new building is 370 feet or 112.7 meters tall.
This makes the new air traffic control tower the second tallest in the United States, right behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. The base, terminal radar approach control center, and cabin are also much bigger than they were on the old tower.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is one of the fastest-growing airports in the country, and by investing in its infrastructure, the airport is proving that it is here to stay.
7. Wuhan Tianhe Airport, China
For many years, the air traffic control tower at Guangzhou Airport was the tallest in China. That changed in 2016 when the new tower at Wuhan Tianhe Airport opened. The recent addition to China’s skies stretches 114.95 meters into the sky.
The control tower is not just taller than the previous one it replaced. It also contains more advanced technology that passed the industry’s acceptance check with flying colors.
The new tower coincided with the opening of a second runway at the airport. Wuhan is one of China’s fastest-growing megacities, a regional powerhouse in central China, and its airport needed to expand to accommodate more traffic.
6. Tokyo Haneda International Airport, Japan
Japan has a reputation for advanced technology and great connections within its transportation system, including its aviation network. Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport is no different. It boasts one of the tallest air traffic control towers in the world, standing 115.7 meters tall.
The new air traffic control tower was inaugurated in 2010 as part of a larger project of renovating Tokyo’s airport. Other improvements included expanding existing terminals, building a new international terminal, and adding another runway.
Tokyo Haneda International Airport welcomes tens of millions of passengers yearly, so the expansions were necessary for everyone’s safety and comfort.
5. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, USA
Everything is bigger at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. This airport is the busiest in the United States and in the world, so the air traffic control operators have plenty of work on their hands surveying arriving and departing planes. Luckily, they have a great vantage point to do so from an air traffic control tower that is 121 meters tall.
The ATC tower was built in 2006 by the firm Hensel Phelps, which also built the tower at Orlando Airport.
There’s certainly plenty to survey at Atlanta International Airport, which has a whopping five parallel runways.
4. Tower East, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur International Airport is home to some of the tallest air traffic control towers in the world. One of these, Tower East, is a whopping 130 meters tall, nearly 10 meters taller than the 5th place Hartsfield-Jackson air traffic control tower.
The height of Tower East is even more impressive considering that it is one of the older towers on this list—it was built in 1998, nearly 25 years ago, before many of the most recent advances in building technology. It is also one of the few air traffic control towers with its own nickname, as some people affectionately call it “The Slim Lady.”
However, none of this is enough to make Tower East the tallest air traffic control tower in Kuala Lumpur Airport, let alone in the world.
3. Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi), Thailand
Until recently, the air traffic control tower at Suvarnabhumi New Bangkok International Airport was the tallest in the world. It stands at a whopping 132.2 meters tall.
The tower was built in 2005 to serve New Bangkok International Airport. An air traffic controller sitting in the cabin at the top can survey an area covering 32 square kilometers.
Thailand’s airport is ever busier as the country becomes an important international tourist destination. With dozens of flights an hour, the air traffic controllers perched in the tower will certainly appreciate the view!
2. Tower West, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2), Malaysia
Not content with losing the title of tallest air traffic control tower to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur International Airport built an even taller air traffic control tower, Tower West, in 2013 (Of course, the real reasons for building it probably weren’t that petty and had more to do with serious concerns such as infrastructure.).
Tower West towers over Tower East and measures 133.8 meters above land. According to some measurements, it is the tallest air traffic control tower in the world because it measures 141.9 meters above sea level.
Until very recently, Kuala Lumpur’s Tower West was the world record holder for the tallest air traffic control tower.
1. King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
When measured from base to top, the air traffic control tower at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah is the tallest in the world. It is 136 meters tall.
Jeddah’s tower is also one of the newest on the list. It was only finished in 2017 and cuts a spectacular silhouette.
The list is not without its controversies. Some people still acknowledge Tower West in Kuala Lumpur as the tallest when measured from sea level to top. Others cite Vancouver Harbour Tower and Water Airport’s ATC tower as the tallest, but the tower is not a freestanding building at the Canadian airport.