Hoping to reduce the risk of close calls and plane collisions on the ground, Los Angeles World Airports began construction Monday on a two-year, $333 million project to reconfigure LAX's south runway and taxiways.
Construction will take one of the airport's four runways out of service for eight months. Officials estimate flights could be delayed about six minutes during the airport's morning, midafternoon and evening rush hours, although the wait could stretch to nearly a half-hour during fog.
Officials with LAX, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines said they've spent months preparing for the runway closure and believe they can keep the impact to a minimum.
"If there are significant delays then the airlines will shift their flights," LAWA spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.
United Airlines, one of the airport's biggest carriers, plans to board passengers and depart the gate a few minutes earlier during the busiest times of the day, spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said.
"When we look at what construction will impact, it's the taxi time. By adding a couple minutes to account for taxi time we feel that's adequate."
The south airfield improvement project is the first phase of the $4 billion LAX modernization plan, which had been held up for years in legal challenges until a settlement was finalized in January.
The FAA and airport have argued the runway reconfiguration is essential because the current design encourages runway incursions, when two aircraft or a vehicle and aircraft get too close.
LAX has an estimated eight incursions a year, including a close call last week, when an incoming American West jet nearly collided with a departing United Express plane.
The previous design required that planes landing on the south runway slow rapidly from 200 mph to 60 mph, then stop before crossing the takeoff runway en route to the terminal.
"They'd overshoot the lane. It's like coming off a freeway off-ramp; they roll into the crosswalk," Castles said, in describing the incursions.
As part of the project, LAX will move the arrival runway 55 feet away and build a new center taxiway, so the airplanes land, cruise down the center taxiway and have more space to slow down before crossing the takeoff runway.
"You add this little zig-zag into the aircraft's path and that slows the aircraft sufficiently so (the pilot) can stop and await instructions," Castles said.
While the new runway is being built, the airport will use the adjacent runway for arrivals and departures. The new lane will be nearly two miles long and 200 feet wide -- the same size as the old runway, which is large enough to accommodate the new 555-seat Airbus A380.
After the runway opens next spring, LAX will build new taxiways designed to reduce the risk of collisions between planes on the taxiway and planes taking off on the runway.
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