In an effort to remain competitive with airports in other cities and accommodate new jumbo jets, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved 10 gates to be built to handle international traffic at Los Angeles International Airport.
The project is the latest in a string of modifications underway at the airport, including a $723.5-million renovation of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and the recent relocation of the southernmost runway for safety reasons.
Officials said the gates -- expected to cost $1.2 billion -- would be the first built at the airport since the early 1980s.
The gates will be part of a new structure directly west of the Bradley terminal on a site that is occupied mostly by aircraft hangars. Passengers will be ferried to the building by an underground people mover extending from the terminal.
The project was spurred in particular by the airlines' decision to move toward using larger jumbo jets, such as the Airbus A380, for overseas flights. All 10 gates will be able to accommodate the larger aircraft, in addition to two gates being built as part of the Bradley terminal.
"Many of the airlines are buying the larger planes and were looking to go to other airports" that could accommodate them, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said. "This sends a message to the airline industry that we want a world-class airport."
Officials believe that failing to expand would make the city and the airport lose out on much-needed revenue from passengers -- tourists, in particular -- as well as fees that airlines must pay to use the city-owned airport.
Meanwhile, the city has for years struggled to implement a comprehensive master plan that would include terminal construction. After the last proposal was scuttled by a lawsuit brought by noise- and traffic-sensitive communities near the airport, officials struck a settlement with the neighbors that allowed some projects to go forward and put others on hold.
The renovation of the Bradley terminal got underway this year. And another project in the planning stages calls for building a consolidated rental car facility at the airport.
Airport officials said the new international gates would be paid for by the fees that airlines pay to use LAX. Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, told the council that the structure should be completed by 2012.
LAX already has another remote building with gates, but it is not used on a regular basis and requires passengers to board buses to reach it. Airlines don't like requiring passengers who are embarking on or arriving from long overseas flights to have to squeeze onto buses.
In a related issue, airport officials also discussed last weekend's customs computer outages that stranded 17,000 passengers for hours at LAX.
"It was unprecedented and unacceptable," Lindsey told the council.
Lindsey and several council members agreed that one reason for the delays was that the federal government's backup system could not handle more than a fraction of the passengers typically processed by customs. It remains unclear, however, whether the backup system will be upgraded.
The stark contrast between San Francisco Int'l Airport and LAX has led to speculation that San Francisco will woo A380 flights away from LAX.
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