LAX Runway Will Be Closed During Major Construction

The project aims to improve airport security and prepare the airport for a new generation of jumbo jets.

Construction will bring more than 800 truck trips a day, while most of the airport's south side -- including its remaining runway -- will stay open to air traffic. At night, when much of the major work will take place, many Boeing 747 cargo jets will have to cross the construction zone to access warehouses on the airport's south side.

"We're building something that's 3 miles long, 4 feet deep and 200 feet wide," said Ray Jack, airport operations supervisor at LAX. "It's a huge project."

In periodic briefings with truck drivers and other construction workers about the dangers of driving on an airfield, Jack uses dramatic pictures from a Sept. 27, 1999, accident at LAX involving a Corsair Boeing 747, a pickup and several large dump trucks.

The far right engine on the two-story aircraft smashed into two big-rig dirt haulers -- peeling back the cab roof on each like the skin of an orange -- and hit a white pickup, flipping it over, after the pilot turned onto a closed taxiway late at night.

No one was hurt. The aircraft, with 321 on board, was taxiing for takeoff.

To prevent such accidents, officials will update pilots on the runway project through periodic bulletins and will block off the site with bright orange fences. Flagmen will be stationed on taxiways to ensure that trucks yield to aircraft. To keep debris from getting sucked into jet engines, mobile sweepers will constantly clean taxiways.

Work will take place 20 hours a day, with contractors simultaneously tearing up the old 11,095-foot runway and building the new one. To break up the existing runway, workers will use a piece of equipment known as a "hoe ram" that stomps on the concrete like a jackhammer on steroids.

Trucks filled with the crushed concrete will make 200 round trips a day, down a road built between the two runways, to a concrete plant on LAX's western edge. There, old concrete will be recycled. An additional 300 trucks per day will bring remixed concrete for the new runway.

Like a concrete layer cake, the new runway will have three sections: 12 inches of lime-treated material on the bottom, 12 inches of low-strength concrete in the middle and 19 inches of concrete on the top. The concrete will be built in 20-by-20-foot squares that will be knitted together with metal bars.

While construction is taking place, controllers must reroute flights that typically would land on the southernmost runway. The FAA used computer models to help figure out how to get the most from the three remaining runways.

Air traffic controllers employed simulations to reassure the airport's 85 carriers that their passengers wouldn't experience major delays as a result of construction.

But some airline representatives are skeptical.

"It's still somewhat of an open question mark from our perspective," said Frank Clark, executive director of the nonprofit organization that represents airlines operating from the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

International carriers, many of which take off around midnight for Asia, fear they could be stuck with a tough choice if too many planes want to use the airport's longest runway, the one next to the one being moved, at the same time: burn precious fuel during a long wait for takeoff or switch to a shorter runway, which could require them to remove cargo.

Airlines are also concerned that during foggy periods, typically from November to February, some flights would have to be rerouted to other airports.

To forestall delays during poor weather and busy times, air traffic controllers worked with the airlines and encouraged them to revamp their schedules.

"We actually distributed to all the airlines our breakdown of anticipated problems during certain time frames, and we emphasized to them, 'You might consider spreading out your schedule during these hours where we have peak traffic,' " said Marv Shappi, operations manager at the LAX tower.

But Clark, who represents carriers in the Bradley terminal, said the 34 airlines he works with haven't revised their schedules because of reassurances from the FAA that construction will cause minimal disruptions. It was unclear whether any of the other 51 airlines have made changes.

If LAX becomes too busy at times, planes awaiting takeoff from other Southern California airports could be kept on the ground to avoid crowded skies. LAX would receive priority as it tries to clear a backup, officials said.

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