Rare look inside San Francisco International Airport's new control tower

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Calif. -- There's something new rising above San Francisco International Airport, and we're not talking about airplanes. We got a rare look inside the new Air Traffic Control Tower, and the view is hard to beat.

Airport officials gave ABC7 News a rare tour of their new tower, which is about 40 feet taller than the old one, as they announced they're done with construction and handing it over to the FAA.

"When we start using the tower next year we'll be operating out of a building that is outwardly striking and constructed according to the strictest modern seismic standards," said FAA Regional Administrator Glen Martin.


In fact, it's built to sway like a tree in an earthquake up to magnitude 8.0. Remember the South Napa Earthquake shut down the small airport there.

"The earthquake blew out most of the windows in the control tower and the facility is currently unusable," said an official.

But not at SFO.

"They're inch and a half thick pieces of glass that allows it to have some movement in an event, a shaking event," said airport project manager Mark Costanzo.

That means the tower can keep functioning.

"The basis of any control tower is the view out the window. The primary role of any air traffic controller in a control tower is to visually identify the aircrafts, spot them, see their movements and ensure their safety by watching them," said SFO Air Traffic Manager Andy Richards.

But beyond the amazing view, the desks there will be chock full of computer equipment that'll pave the way for air traffic control's high tech future.

"This will be the most highly technically advanced tower in the country. And I'm proud to be here because of that."

Air Traffic Manager Andy Richards explained the current tower looks like.

"Using paper strips that provide all the identification of an airplane and its route of flight and its altitude," he said. "We're going to a totally automated system called electronic flight strips where everything will be on a computer screen."

Once it's operating, only a select few will be allowed inside. But there's one piece of technology everyone can see -- the front of the tower will light up.

"We do have the capability to change the colors for different events," Costanzo said. "You know, of course, when the San Francisco Giants win the World Series again it'll be orange."

There is one thing blocking the new tower's view -- the old tower. The FAA says it'll have to come down as soon as the new one opens.