Control towers: the tallest and most spectacular in the world

Towers shaped like Olympic braziers, birds and spaceships control airtraffic

Over 28 thousand airplanes moving, 4 million passengers transiting and nearly 17 thousand tonnes of transported goods. These are the numbers registered for the month of June by the Leonardo da Vinci Airport, in Rome, the largest airport-stop in Italy. Continuous traffic on the airstrips, just like in the other important airports in the world, managed by the control towers.

Flight-control personnel, and more specifically control tower ones, who work in the tall control towers dominating the other airport structures, manage the air-traffic. In these huge structures, airport safety and efficiency are guaranteed. And one must not think that numerous people work in there: in fact, if we take the Milan Malpensa Airport, only 5 people actually work in the control room, at the same time. One of these officers, coordinates the control tower room activity, two of them control ground traffic, while the other two take care of the airplanes that are taking off or landing.

And it is not guaranteed that all future control towers will continue to have people, working inside these rooms, to control air traffic. In 2015, Sweden inaugurated the first totally automated control tower, which manages the air traffic of the Ornskoldsvik airport, without the need of having flight-control personnel working inside. Activities are managed remotely, through many video cameras, whose images are sent in real time to the Sunsval Airport, located 144 km away, in another type of traditional control tower. This technologically advanced tower is 27 high. It has 80 video cameras and various radars. It was developed by Saab engineers, with the aim of reducing airport management costs in smaller airports.

For larger airports, instead, technology can help controllers, but cannot replace them: their presence in the top rooms of the control towers will be still guaranteed for a very long time. It is, in fact, no coincidence that, as the airports gradually increase in number, so do these pinnacles.

World's Tallest Control Towers: The Ranking

Which control towers stand out for their height, but also for their particular shape? Here's a list of the first 10.

In our top ten list, we can only find two European structures, while the first positions are occupied by Asian and US buildings.

The world's tallest control tower is the New Bangkok International Airport one, in Thailand: it's a building measures 132.2 metres in height, and is therefore, higher, if we want to make a comparison, than Milan's Pirelli Tower. The structure was inaugurated in 2005: flight control staff, here, have a 360° view over the 32 square kilometre area of Bangkok's airport.

The second position goes to the control tower located in Maleysia, at Kuala Lumpur, and more precisely at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport: the difference, in meters compared to the Bangkok tower is just 2, for an overall height of 130 metres. Built in 1998, the tower allows officers to control the airports' two strips, which measure more than 4 km.

A US airport ranks third, occupying the podium's last position: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world's most busy airports. In 2018, over 107 million passengers transited the Georgian airport, and therefore 7 million more compared to the second ranking, Beijing's airport. It's not surprising then that a very tall control tower is needed: in this case, 121 metres in height.

Tokyo's International Airport control tower ranks fourth. Measuring 115.7 metres in height, it was built in 2010 to replace the previous structure, not high enough to control the new (fourth) strip, which measures 2,500 metres.

The fifthsixth and seventh place are taken respectively by the Canton (111m), Cairo's (110m) and Abu Dhabi's (109m) airports.

The eighth position is taken by the first European control tower, as regards height, built in Austria for Vienna's Airport. Designed by Zechner & Zechner, it measures 109 metres, and functions since 2006.

The ranking of the world's 10 tallest control towers ends with the Indianapolis (106 metres) and Orlando (105 metres) airports, in the US.

Control towers and their shapes

Besides being very tall structures, control towers often can become pieces of art, where the best architects in the world can free their genius. These solitary buildings, essentially, rise in empty areas: and this is why it's possible to create extremely original structures.

This is the case, for example, of Edinborough’s airport's control tower, the largest Scottish airport with regards to number of passengers. The tower, which is 57 metres high, does not really stand out for its dimensions, but for its shape: It, in fact, resembles an Olympic brazier, with the control room where the flame would be.

Birmingham's airport's control tower also takes its inspiration from the Olympics. This other airport structure, also shaped like a brazier, was built in 2012, for London's Olympic games.

The control tower of Fort Worth Alliance Airport, in Texas, is unique. It is in fact in a decentralized location, compared to the structure's axis, in a building that resembles, in some way, a bird's beak, but also an ice-cream cone.

The world's most spectacular control towers inevitably includes the United Arab Emirates. The Control tower of Dubai's International Airport looks just like a spaceship that is ready to take off.  

In England, the shapes and form of the control tower of Farnborough's airport are smoother but still as spectacular. This tower, thanks to the building below, resembles a bird ready to fly away.