LAX Risks Losing Its High Profile If It Can't Get Modernization Off Ground

The new airport director also will have to pursue ambitious plans to re-route the Green Line to LAX, build an in-line baggage-screening system and sort out community-outreach projects hammered out as part of a fragile legal settlement with airport...

Opposition continued under former Mayor James Hahn, who agreed to scale back the plans but was forced to shift focus to deal with security issues after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Villaraigosa brokered a deal over legal challenges to the plan, but LAX neighbors remain wary.

``We are looking at the milestones promised by the city,'' said Denny Schneider of the group Regional Solutions to Airport Congestion. ``We are expecting good cooperation, but I'm not sure we've seen it yet. Things are not as smooth as one would like.''

Among the stumbling blocks is whether to expand LAX's north runways to accommodate mega-jets.

``We have been working 14 years-plus on a so-called master plan, and (LAWA) tried to dictate to us and ignore us,'' Schneider said. ``The present mayor, at least, is working with us and looking forward, and that's appreciated. But we are still very concerned about what will happen in the near future.''

Options being considered include creating a special mid-field terminal with 40 extra gates for the jumbo jetliners.

``The fact is (the jets) will have the ability to fly past us to other destinations,'' said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who heads the council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee and supports the proposal.

``We have to recognize we won't be the only game in town for the airlines and have to deal with them.''

Relations need fixing

Villaraigosa also has been working to improve the passenger experience at LAX. But for the Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, the challenge is mending relations that have frayed for decades.

``Going back 20 years or so, the relationship between the airlines and LAX was probably the best in the country,'' said John Meenan, executive vice president of the group. ``There was a great sense of mutual interest and cooperation.

``We would hope, with the appointment of a new executive director, that we could return to that type of relationship.''

In recent years, it has been left to the airlines and concessionaires to modernize their facilities. But little has been done because of rent and lease disputes.

A number of airlines are contesting city efforts to increase rents, and last week United Airlines added a $10 surcharge on LAX passengers to pay for the higher rent.

There also is an ongoing dispute about improving concession contracts at LAX. Most airport concessionaires now are operating on a month-to-month basis.

``They aren't going to want to make improvements until they know they are going to be there awhile,'' Hahn said. ``What's a shame is that I don't think we have gotten the revenue from our concessions that we could have. We are losing money when you compare us to other airports.''

The lack of flair among LAX concessions also bothers some, who note airports in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, San Francisco and other cities have high-end or unique specialty shops.

``The fact is, people spend more and more time within the airports because of security issues,'' Kyser said. ``There is money there we could capture.''

While proposals have been floated to imbue LAX with more of the famed Hollywood mystique and bring in more local operations -- from Home Boy Bakers to Dutton's Book Stores -- no real movement has occurred.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the airport area, said such developments would have only limited impact.

``People are going to want to come to Los Angeles,'' Rosendahl said. ``The purpose of an airport is to get them in and on their planes and off their planes and out as smoothly as possible.''

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