Two parallel runways on Los Angeles International Airport's north side must be moved farther apart to reduce close calls between aircraft and to improve air quality, officials say in a proposal to be unveiled today.
Because at least one scenario would push flights closer to homes and businesses, the city's airport agency delayed releasing the suggestions several times in the last three months as officials tried to make the case to residents and lawmakers that moving the runways is essential to improving safety.
"The potential loss of life on the north airfield with a collision is unconscionable," said Nick Johnson, a consultant with Johnson Aviation, which is working on the plan. "We have to deal with it."
Marion Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, also has repeatedly called on the city to reconfigure the north airfield to improve safety.
But Westchester residents and their representative in Congress contend that altering the north airfield is unnecessary because most close calls occur on the airport's south side.
"You and your staff claim that the north runway must be moved due to safety concerns, but I have not seen any documentation providing such justification," Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) wrote recently to Lydia Kennard, the airport agency's executive director.
Airport officials have argued for years that increasing the distance between the airport's two sets of parallel runways is necessary to reduce close calls between aircraft. Usually, pilots land on the outer runways and are required to cross the inner runways, reserved for planes taking off, on their way to the terminals. In several high-profile incidents this year, pilots entered the inner runway on the airport's south side as another aircraft was taking off.
Officials are currently moving the southernmost runway 55 feet and plan to build a center taxiway where pilots can turn and stop to await instructions from air traffic controllers. The airport agency would like to install a similar center taxiway between the two runways on the north side.
The new proposal includes four options that will be presented to community members Dec. 6 and 9. The proposals were devised over the last several months after discussions between airport-area residents and agency officials.
Attendees also will be asked to submit suggestions for what should be built on vacant city land north of Westchester Parkway and at Manchester Square, a neighborhood near the 405 Freeway.
Moving the north runways farther apart and lengthening them is also necessary for the airport to accommodate the 555-seat Airbus A380 and larger versions of Boeing's 747 jumbo jet, officials said.
"Aircraft have outgrown the airfield," said Michael J. Doucette, the airport agency's chief of airport planning.
The LAX complex was built in the 1960s, when aircraft were lighter and slower. Today, heavy jumbo jets that park at gates on the north side must taxi to the airport's longest runway on the south side for takeoff, creating additional air pollution, officials said. Lengthening and further separating runways on the north would reduce idle and taxi times and emissions, they add.
Today, runways on the north are about 700 feet apart, causing traffic jams because the tails of big jets block the outer runway after the planes land and turn onto taxiways to cross the inner runway, forcing controllers to hold other aircraft. This problem will worsen with the arrival of the Airbus A380 and other new large aircraft, officials said.
It's likely that a combination of four runway improvement options will be included in an overall modernization plan for the airport being developed by representatives from the airport agency, the cities of El Segundo, Inglewood and Culver City, community groups and Los Angeles County. Officials expect to release that plan this winter.
The proposal to fix the aging facility is being crafted to replace former Mayor James K. Hahn's controversial $11-billion modernization blueprint. City officials agreed to shelve Hahn's proposal and start over in exchange for a promise by airport-area communities to drop federal and state lawsuits that challenged it.
Hahn's plan proposed moving the inner runway on LAX's north side closer to the terminals, requiring officials to demolish Terminals 1, 2 and 3. The measure, which also would have lengthened both runways, would have cost around $2 billion and taken at least 12 years to implement.
Officials say that is too long to wait to make safety improvements to the north side, adding that the current proposals to move the outer runway north would take only up to four years.
The options included in the presentation to be posted today at are:
* Shifting the outer runway 340 feet north, building a center taxiway, and lengthening the inner runway by 1,415 feet to a total of 11,700 feet. This option would require officials to reconfigure Lincoln Boulevard between Westchester Parkway and Sepulveda Boulevard.
* Moving the inner runway 100 feet south, building a center taxiway and extending both runways. The change would force officials to demolish up to 20 gates where aircraft park, and to rebuild taxiways and service roads.
* Rebuilding the inner runway 100 feet south and installing several S-shaped taxiways in between the two runways. This also would require demolishing up to 20 gates.
* Pushing the outer runway 100 feet north, installing a center taxiway and lengthening the inner runway. After construction, this plan would restrict up to 11 gates at Terminals 2, 3 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal to small aircraft.
Residents say they are concerned that the proposal to move the runway 340 feet north echoes an airport expansion plan by former Mayor Richard Riordan that was despised by the community.
"The airport hasn't been very imaginative," said Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, a residents group that sued the city over Hahn's plan. "All they're doing is rehashing the old stuff."
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