Cairns Control Tower No.3
RVAC clubhouse

This Control Tower at Cairns, actually the third Tower, is located near the Domestic and International Terminals on the eastern side of the airport. It was built in 1991 to replace an older Tower which was on the western side. New domestic and, later, international passenger terminals were built in 1984 and 1990 respectively. The western side of the airport then became devoted to General Aviation. The building beneath the Tower (see also below) housed the Cairns Terminal Control Unit (TCU), which provided a radar Approach service. The Approach function transferred to Brisbane Air Traffic Services Centre on 8 April 2017.

Increasing tourist traffic, including more direct international services, compelled the introduction of radar to the far north of Queensland. The new Tower was part of the radar implementation plan for Cairns, which commenced in 1992. Previously a procedural Approach service out to 30NM was provided from the old Tower, but with the introduction of a radar unit, using AUSCATS equipment until 1998, the Cairns area of responsibility was extended to 200NM from Cairns. Prior to AUSCATS, the nearest radar was a short-range RAAF equipment used by Townsville Approach.

Retired Air Traffic Controller Geoff Goodall remembers: "Training of controllers on radar commenced 10/89 with a projected transition of mid-1990. Numerous technical problems with the RASPP radar sensors at Hann Tableland (ENR) and Redden Creek (TMA) delayed that to 1992. My 6 month temporary transfer from Perth for the training phase extended accordingly!

"A million stories – our radars were the cause celebre for the local feral environmentalists who stopped roads being cut through scrub to the radar sites. Once the radar began turning it had a few nasty features, like invisible Qantas B767s for several months, and also F-28 VH-FKD. No primary, no SSR….. fun times and many worried Frenchmen scuttling around the place.

Tower design was excellent, with a very large cab. When the TAAATS equipment was installed in 1998 the console got Eurocat screens in Coord (Centre) and ADC (right). Eurocat Strip printer and CATIS were at the SMC (far left) position.

"Cairns is a fascinating place ATC wise – with first solo circuits mixing it with the B747s and Approach flogging the numerous reef scenic flights to get in front of RPTs. Name another place in Australia where the Flow includes the scenic Tiger Moths in the sequence! (We used to leave it to the Tower to slip the Tigers in, but it went bad too often!). You can’t extend traffic on downwind leg for the main RWY 33 on left or right circuit due to mountains filling the windscreen, forcing the buggers to turn base just when you didn’t want them to.

"Another interesting fact is that jets in the circuit area for RWY 33 are lost from radar due terrain shielding so radar separation for sequencing becomes interesting. Ditto the floatplane Beavers and choppers out of the Pier (2 miles from RWY threshold) were below radar coverage.

"I’ll stop here because I’m beginning to drift off, back to the days of instructing airline jets to 'track west of the Coolwaters Caravan park on downwind, and follow the Tiger Moth turning final' ... and them doing it without a murmur!"

Photos: above-2005; below-January 2019



Below is an overview of the main Cairns terminal area after takeoff from Runway 33. At right, in front of the Tower, is the domestic terminal. To the left of the Tower is the international terminal. What is now the domestic terminal was built in 1984 and also housed international flights in the early days. The new international terminal was completed in 1990.

signal ball - click here to read moreobstruction lightsanemometerVHF antennasignal lamp - click here to read more

(Photos: 1-Doug Stott; 2-3-Phil Vabre)

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