The World’s Tallest Air Traffic Control Towers

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Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of an airport is the control tower. They literally tower above the rest of the buildings, as important in stature as they are to the running of the airport. But which are the tallest control towers in the world? We’ve done some digging.

ATC Tower Tallest tower
Air Traffic Control Towers dominate the skyline. Their height helps them keep eyes on all activity. Photo: Getty Images

Airport control towers are responsible for keeping an eye on everything that happens on the tarmac. Obviously, height is a distinct advantage here. The tower is considered the center of activity, with Air Traffic Control (ATC) giving the go-head for any plane to move, land, take off, or taxi. Although each tower is different, and some are even distinctive in design, they are all tall. Some are very tall.

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Top spot by just one meter

The award for the tallest radio control tower at an airport goes to a very recent addition. The Jeddah King Abdulaziz international ATC tower in Saudi Arabia only opened in 2017. At 136m (446ft), it’s taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, this new addition is yet to be fully recognized as the tallest tower, considering it is so new.

Second place goes to Tower West in Kuala Lumpur. Finished in 2013, the tower measures 133.8 meters (438 ft). Tower West has 33 floors plus the rooftop and is still recognized by the Guinness World Records as the tallest Air Traffic Control Tower in the world.

Kuala Lumpur ATC tower sunset
Kuala Lumpur has held the title of Tallest ATC tower twice. The West Tower is now the third tallest in the world. Photo: Getty Images

The third tallest tower is in New Bangkok International Airport in Thailand. The Suvarnabhumi  Airport tower is a massive 132.2 meters (434ft) tall and gives 360° views over around 32 square kilometers.  This makes it twice as tall as Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral (before the fire).

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The tower was finished in 2005 and stole the title of tallest Air Traffic Control tower by just two meters from Kuala Lumpur’s Tower East. Before Bangkok stole the top spot, Malaysia’s Kula Lumpur was already in the top spot with its East Tower. Finished in 1998, it was the tallest tower for several years at 130m (427 ft).

The Top Ten

So, the top ten tallest ATC towers in the world look like this:

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  • Jeddah King Abdulaziz, Saudia Arabia – 136m/446ft
  • Kulala Lumpur West Tower – 133m/ 438ft
  • Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport – 132m/434ft
  • Kulala Lumpur East Tower – 130m/427ft
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta – 121m/397ft
  • Tokyo International – 115m/377ft
  • Guangzhou Baiyun international – 110m/361ft
  • Cairo International – 110m/361ft
  • Abu Dhabi International – 109m/357ft
  • Vienna International – 108m/354ft
Atlanta airport
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson is not only the busiest airport in the world; it also has one of the tallest ATC towers. Photo: Atlanta Airport

Does Vancouver count?

Some people may take issue with the Guinness World record for the tallest ATC tower. They may even take issues with Saudi Arabia’s claim to the top spot and say that Vancouver Harbour Tower and Water Airport should claim the title at 142m (465 ft). However, Air Traffic Control is actually situated on top of a 30-story building on Granville Street, next to the harbor. As such, it isn’t a freestanding tower and therefore can’t take credit for the tallest tower.

Do you think Vancouver should count? Have you ever seen one of these towers? We’d love to hear from you.

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