Mayor Offers Regional Airport Plan to Shift Domestic Flights From LAX

Efforts at regionalizing air transportation already have failed three times in recent years.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday outlined his vision for the region's air traffic system, calling for airlines to concentrate international flights at LAX while shifting some new domestic travel, particularly short-haul flights, to other airports.

Los Angeles faces many obstacles in clearing its air traffic jams, however. Efforts at regionalizing air transportation already have failed three times in recent years.

Airlines prefer big-city airports, and airport directors cannot force carriers to redistribute flights to airports far from the population concentration in and around Los Angeles.

But at the news Tuesday that a record number of international passengers used Los Angeles International Airport in 2005, Villaraigosa said other airports in Southern California must begin handling some of the increasing demand for air travel.

"We've got to grow our airport capacity in the region," the mayor said at LAX, where he announced that Qantas Airways was opening a new maintenance facility at the airport that would double its engineering and maintenance workforce at the airfield.

"We want an airport that has the capability to continue our paramount position as the No. 1 destination airport in the world and as the gateway to the Pacific Rim and the growing economies of the East" and the growing markets of South America, the mayor said.

There are nine other Southern California airports that officials hope will take the pressure off aging LAX because the region faces a doubling of the number of air passengers by 2030.

With a new agreement to try to limit growth at LAX and existing caps on flights at Long Beach and John Wayne airports, efforts to spread air traffic to the Inland Empire and Antelope Valley are taking on a new urgency.

That has resulted in a refined vision that would concentrate the most lucrative international flights at LAX.

"LAX is the international facility for this region," Lydia Kennard, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said Tuesday. "And we are very positive about expanding international service here. But what we are really clear about is that does not mean growth, and we are not promoting growth, in the domestic arena."

The role of LAX as a hub of international travel was confirmed Tuesday when the city released its passenger counts for 2005 showing record international volume at LAX.

"That's exactly what we see for our future at LAX -- to be the dominant international facility -- and other airports need to take up domestic short- and long-haul service," Kennard said.

LAX airlines served 17.48 million international passengers in 2005, eclipsing the previous high of 17.41 million in 2000. International passenger volume was up 6.1% in 2005 compared with 2004. Total passenger volume at LAX in 2005 was 61.4 million, up 1.3% from 2004. Air freight at LAX in 2005 was 2.04 million tons, also a record.

The figures show not only that air travel at LAX has continued to recover from the lows following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but also that growth is continuing in the region.

The city-owned Ontario International Airport set its own record for total passengers, increasing 4% over the previous year.

On Tuesday, Villaraigosa said airports in the region, including Ontario and Palmdale Regional Airport, must pick up some of the growing air traffic so that LAX does not become a nuisance, with traffic, noise and other problems, to its neighbors.

"I believe we can more strategically increase capacity at Palmdale and Ontario, and that's what you are going to see in the coming months," Villaraigosa said.

In addition to a modernization plan for the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, estimated to be worth more than $500 million, the city plans to improve the infrastructure at Ontario and Palmdale so they can handle more flights.

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