The top 10 tallest ATC towers in the world

Despite new remote and virtual tower systems, the tallest ATC towers in the world still offer real-life sight lines of the planes they are routing. Peter Nilson gives a run down of the tallest towers in the world.

Vienna Schwechat Airport’s iconic ATC tower is the tallest in Europe, but is it in the top 10 in the world?

Air traffic control (ATC) towers play a crucial role in the safe and efficient operation of air traffic within a specific airspace.

Though modern developments in remote and virtual tower (RVT) systems mean controllers don’t necessarily need to be located on-site, the tallest ATC towers in the world still offer peace of mind, knowing the controllers are operating locally and have actual site lines of the skies and runways they are managing.

Air traffic controllers and the advanced technologies used in modern ATC towers are essential components of the aviation industry, contributing to the safe and reliable routing of passenger and cargo flights, working to route traffic safely without collisions.

ATC towers are often used as architectural showpieces, lending identity to the airports where they are housed. Iconic ATC towers include Istanbul Airport’s tulip-inspired elliptical tower, Edinburgh Airport’s helix-shaped tower, and Vienna International Airport’s ‘leaning‘ ATC tower.

So, what are the top ten tallest ATC towers in the world?

10. Cairo International Airport (CAI), Egypt: 110m (361 feet)

Cairo International Airport (CAI) serves Egypt’s capital, Cairo, and is the largest and busiest airport in Egypt. A primary hub for Egyptair and Nile Air, CAI saw 26 million passengers pass through in 2023, with a total of 198,000 aircraft movements.

The airport houses Africa’s tallest ATC tower, at 110m (361 feet) tall. The control tower cab covers roughly 85m2 (915 square feet) and the technical services area covers 3,000m2 (32292 square feet). Commissioned in 2010, the $40m tower was constructed to serve the third runway parallel to the two existing runways at the airport.

Orascom acted as the main contractor for the tower construction, while OCI Construction Group carried out the construction works under a subcontract and ACAMS provided the tower solutions. ADPi, a subsidiary of Aéroports de Paris, provided the tower design and Thales provided the ATC systems.

9. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN), China: 110m (361 feet)

A relatively new airport, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) opened in 2004 to serve Guangzhou, the capital of China’s Guangdong province. The airport serves as a main hub for China Southern Airlines and handled more than 63 million passengers and 38,778 aircraft movements in 2023.

At 110m (361 feet), the ATC tower at CAN is the second tallest in China. The tower provides a view of the entire 15km2 (3707-acre) footprint of the Southern Chinese airport.

The tower was constructed with an investment of $8.8m and was completed in 2003, prior to the opening of the airport in August 2004. The design and engineering of the tower were carried out by CPG Consultants. URS Greiner Woodward Clyde & Parsons Corporation was the main construction contractor of the airport.

8. Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), US: 112.8m (370 feet)

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is the primary airport for commercial and military use in the Charlotte metropolitan area in North Carolina, US. Opened in 1935, CLT acts as a fortress hub for American Airlines. The airport served over 53.4 million passengers in 2023, with 505,589 aircraft movements.

The newest tower on this list, CLT’s 112.8m (370-foot) ATC tower opened in 2022. Located south of the terminal and air cargo facilities, between the centre of the airport and its eastern parallel runways, the tower features a next-generation air transportation system, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast technology, a standard terminal automation replacement system, and an advanced electronic flight strip system.

7. Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH), China: 115m (377 feet)

Opened in 1995, Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH) serves the capital of China’s Hubei province, Wuhan. The busiest airport in central China, WUH saw over 11.6 million passengers pass through in 2022, with a total of 115,062 aircraft movements.

The new 114.95m (377-foot) tall ATC tower opened in tandem with the completion of construction of a second runway and new Terminal 3 at WUH in 2016. The tallest ATC tower in China, the 22-storey tower at WUH is designed to resemble a phoenix coronet, or Fengguan, a type of Chinese traditional headgear.

6. Haneda Airport (HND), Japan: 115.7m (380 feet)

Haneda Airport (HND)  is one of two international airports serving the Greater Tokyo Area. Originally opened in 1931, the airport is the primary hub of Japan’s two largest airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Over 64.2 million passengers passed through HND in 2022.

The new ATC tower, which opened in January 2010, measures 115.7m (380 feet) high. The new tower is 38m taller than the old tower and was necessitated by the construction of the new 2,500m fourth runway located in Tokyo Bay, four kilometres from the old tower. The new $80m ATC tower incorporated the latest anti-tremor technology to make it earthquake-resistant and to avoid swaying caused by strong winds. It has allowed the terminal radar control system to be centralised at Haneda.

5. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International (ATL), US: 121.3m (398 feet)

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, features the tallest ATC tower in North America. The airport saw roughly 104.7 million passengers pass through in 2023, with 775,818 Aircraft movements.

The new ATC tower measures 121.31m (398 feet) and was commissioned in 2006. The tower provides a clear view of the five parallel runways ranging from 2.74km (9,000 feet) to 3.62km (11,889 feet) in length, and the entire airfield. The tower was constructed with an investment of $44.2m and houses an accompanying parking deck and meeting facilities.

4. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) East Tower, Malaysia: 130m (426.5 feet)

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) serves the metropolitan region around the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. KUL, which opened in 1998, is the largest and busiest airport in the country, with 319,026 Aircraft movements and over 47.2 million passengers in 2023.

The KUL East Tower measures 130m (426 feet) high, making it the fourth tallest in the world. The ATC tower, shaped like an Olympic torch, enables the airport to handle 120 flights per hour. The entire length of the airport’s two parallel runways 1 and 2, measuring over 4,000m, are visible from the visual room of the ATC tower.

3. Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), Thailand: 132.2m (433.7 feet)

Opened in 2006, Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is the main international airport serving Bangkok, Thailand. BKK is one of the biggest international airports in Southeast Asia and a major Cargo Air Freight Hub. The airport recorded roughly 51.7 million passengers and 307,505 aircraft movements in 2023, as well as a total of 1,137,373 tonnes of freight passing through the airport.

The airport’s ATC tower measures 132.2m (433.7 feet) and allows for 360° views over the 32.4 km2 (8,000-acre) airport site. Developed by Siam Syntech-Unique Engineering consortium and Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai), construction was completed in 2005 with an investment of $18m. Thales provided the technology and equipment for the tower.

2. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) West Tower, Malaysia: 133.8m (439 feet)

The only airport to feature twice on this list, KUL’s West Tower is slightly taller than the East Tower, measuring 133.8m (439 feet). Completed in 2013 at a cost of $11.6m, the ATC tower has 33 floors and a rooftop where the surface movement radar is located.

The West Tower monitors the operation of Air Traffic Control for Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 and Runway 3. It also serves as a backup tower in case of emergencies at the East Tower.

1. King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED), Saudi Arabia: 136m (446 feet)

Opened in 1981, King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) is the busiest airport in the country. It serves as the main hub for Saudi flag carrier Saudia and is a gateway to Saudi Arabia for a large number of pilgrims, due to its proximity to the cities of Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites in Islam. JED saw over 42.7 million travellers pass through in 2023, with 250,000 aircraft movements.

As part of a long-term $7.2bn redevelopment project starting in 2001, a new 136m 446-foot) tall ATC tower was completed in 2017 alongside a new passenger terminal at the airport, meaning the airport is currently home to the tallest ATC tower in the world.