City Council approves plans for new control tower at Ellington Airport

State-of-the-art air traffic control tower will have new technology that will both enhance the service provided the airport’s current tenants, and also provide mission control support for future Houston Spaceport operations

March 16, 2017

HOUSTON — Approval from City Council on a $12.4 million project means Ellington Airport will soon have a new, state-of-the-art air traffic control tower replete with new technology that will both enhance the service provided the airport’s current tenants, and also provide mission control support for future Houston Spaceport operations.

By unanimous vote on March 8, 2017, City Council approved a plan that calls for the use of the $3.1 million Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant from the state and $9.3 million from the Houston Airport System Airport Improvement Fund. The project is eligible for $2 million in grant funding through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program, and if approved that money would be returned to the airport system’s Airport Improvement Fund.

The new tower will stand 143 feet, nearly twice as tall as the existing tower, which was built in 1955. The new tower will feature new radios to improve communication with planes. The airfield's lighting-control system will be updated to a more robust and reliable system. An automated weather observation system also will be installed. That new system can determine cloud heights, temperature, rainfall amounts, the presence of lightning in the area and other conditions.

“This is an important step forward for Ellington Airport, and a critical project to ensure the vital aviation operations based there can be carried out safely and efficiently,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz.

The Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant will help cover the cost of designing and constructing the new tower, including a utility building, utility yard and parking area, and the purchase and installation of navigational and communication equipment necessary for effective operation.

The current tower at Ellington sustained structural damage in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. City of Houston engineers determined it was not cost effective to repair the current tower and, while emergency repairs were made, the existing tower still is vulnerable and cannot likely sustain the impact of future storm force winds.

The new tower is vital to the continuation of all Ellington Joint Reserve Base military and aviation missions, and all other general aviation activities. The Ellington JRB is utilized by the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard and the Coast Guard as aviation operational centers and hubs of distribution supporting federal and state civil authorities.

The newly constructed tower will enable the Joint Reserve Base to provide air traffic services and ensure timely and safe establishment of aviation operational centers by the military services, as well as support the continuation of all aviation missions, safely, in a high traffic area of mixed high performance military and civilian commercial air traffic.

The new tower will be built adjacent to the current tower, which will remain in use until the new structure is completed. Work on the project is expected to begin in four to six weeks, and the new tower is expected to be operational by the end of next year.

“Construction of this tower shows the commitment the Houston Airport System has to Ellington and its future,” said Ellington Airport General Manager Arturo Machuca, “and furthers our support for our military partners at Ellington.”

It was announced in February 2017 that the Houston Spaceport will receive a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to help build roadways and utilities at the spaceport. Outside of that grant, the airport has been rebuilding major roadways and is also seeking funding to build a taxiway along its 8,000-foot runway. This will provide access to the runway for future spaceport hangars and will support the development of land.