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Byline: Chip Jones
Dec. 8--They had seen some splendid sights before, but the aviation veterans had never witnessed anything quite as breathtaking as the panoramic view from Richmond's new air-traffic control tower.
As Virginia Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets raced down the runway at Richmond International Airport, Johnny Mazza sounded slightly awestruck at the bird's-eye view.
"In New York and Washington," he said, "people pay to go up buildings and look out observation decks."
During a recent tour of the tower, this stunning view came for free -- although it took millions of dollars and years of effort to build the 11-story structure. It has been under construction on the north edge of the airport since May 2002.
Mazza, chairman of the Capital Region Airport Commission, recently gathered with other local and state officials to see the "manilla tan" and blue structure.
Last week, the airport commission turned ownership of the $11.2 million tower over to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA, which handles air-traffic control, plans to spend the next six months installing and testing equipment before it starts using the facility.
The FAA plans to open the tower on June 13 with "a big party," said agency spokesman Jim Peters.
The event will celebrate the completion of a project that will have taken about two years to build and equip, and much longer to plan, design and fund. For airport CEO and President Jon Mathiasen, completion of the 172-foot-tall tower marks a key moment in the ongoing $75 million expansion of the airport terminal.