The Federal Aviation Administration has begun preliminary planning for a new air traffic control tower at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

Replacing the existing three-decade-old tower, a new tower would provide a more panoramic platform for viewing airport activity and ensure room for a new generation of electronic monitoring equipment. The cost would be at least $26 million.

Before deciding to replace the existing tower, which rises above Concourse C, the FAA also considered a renovation. It assessed the structure’s condition, age, location, height and size. It also evaluated projected air traffic volume and staffing levels and anticipated technology and equipment.

The agency is analyzing potential tower sites, BWI Executive Director Paul Wiedefeld said. The process is expected to take at least six more months.

The project would then move to the design and budgeting phase for a tower about 228 feet tall, which would be 100 feet higher than the current one.

“We want to work with [the FAA] to make this happen when they want to make it happen,” Wiedefeld said.

But it also has to fit into the airport’s own plans beyond opening its $100 million terminal expansion this summer and its long-term hopes to upgrade Concourse D and attract more international traffic to Concourse E.

“We have a role in this,” Wiede­feld said. “They understand what our master plan is. There’s going to be a little bit of give and take.”

The base of the existing tower was built in the 1950s, when the facility was known as Friendship Airport. At nine stories, it was hailed as the tallest tower in the nation.

The structure was raised and topped off with the existing control room, or cab, in 1983.

Three decades ago, the airport handled 4.7 million passengers. Last year, it handled 22.7 million.

“Needless to say, the tower’s a tad old,” said John Dunkerly, who represents local workers in the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

— Baltimore Sun