Duluth International Airport showcases Air Traffic Control Tower replacement plans

Air Traffic Control Tower open house

Duluth International Airport hosted an open house on Wednesday to present an overview of the new Air Traffic Control Tower project and answer any questions from the public.

The Duluth air traffic control tower is deteriorating, according to the Duluth Airport Authority. Built in the mid-1950s, the height of the tower is also not up to modern standards. 

“FAA controllers have to be able to see every aircraft that they can control and talk to. So with the tower height being at 54 feet, it’s inadequate for today’s airfield and what we have today,” said Duluth Airport Authority Director Mark Papko. “It’s not something impactful from today’s concerns, but we’re in the business of mitigating risk and everything that we can do to improve safety at our airport is paramount.”

Duluth International Airport hosted a public open house Wednesday evening to provide information on the Air Traffic Control Tower Project.

“I had no clue that this hangar was the third oldest in the country. It’s over 70 years old and it sounds like the timing is right to get this done, to get it rebuilt,” said Duluth resident Ryan Sistad.

Planning for this project began in 2019 with figuring out where to build the new tower. Site selection has been completed, and the project is currently in the design phase. 

“We’re hoping to get LEED certification as part of it to make sure that it’s a blend between sustainability and operationally efficient,” said Papko. “And just growing the space. Right now, all of our controllers that we do have are cramped and don’t have the adequate space that they need. So expanding that space, allowing them to increase their ability to train and do everything that they need to do to do an effective job, is our main priority.” 

The total cost for a new Air Traffic Control Tower is an estimated $66 million. This February, $10 million was awarded through the Airport Terminal Program. Preparation work, such as building fences around the construction site, will begin this spring. 

“The entire area will be fenced off and constructed with very little impact on anybody,” said Papko. “So for all things considered, it’s essentially a fenced-in sandbox that will eventually get to play in and construct our tower site.”

It’ll be quiet this summer before construction takes off in around a year. From there, it is expected to take around two years to construct. Duluth Airport Authority is hoping to cut a ribbon in the fall to winter of 2026 and be fully operating in the new air traffic control tower by 2027. 

“I think any time that you can keep the airport healthy and keep people wanting to come in here, whether that’s entrepreneurs, investors or just people visiting in and out of town conveniently is, I think, is good for the area,” said Sistad.