After telling Los Angeles World Airport officials it didn’t have the time to perform a full safety study of the north airfield at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center has been in negotiations with airport officials to perform a portion of that study for $1.4 million, starting in June.

A contract for the study was approved Monday, May 19th, by the City of Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners during its meeting at LAX.

Airport commissioner Val Velasco asked what good the study would be if the conclusion was not included in the contract to do an EIS/EIR (environmental impact statement/environmental impact report) awarded in January for $8.7 million to Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc. concerning the redevelopment of LAX and possible reconfiguration of the north airfield.

Local residents opposed to having the north airfield runway moved 340 feet to the north had requested this NASA safety study before the EIS/EIR project contract was awarded, to ensure that the results of the study would be included in the EIS/EIR.

At the January 14th airport commission meeting, Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, the city airport agency), NASA officials indicated they will only do a small portion of the independent study and that someone else will have to complete the study because of NASA’s involvement with other priorities.

Lindsey said that “reasonable avenues” would be explored on work that NASA is not willing to do.

NASA has stated that it will not provide interpretation of the data gleaned from the study; instead a group of six university professors specializing in aviation studies will perform that task.

The participating professors will be paid $75,000 each to provide unbiased feedback. They are from universities including the University of California, Berkeley; Virginia Tech; George Mason University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The University of Maryland, according to airport officials.

The proposed project would take one year for NASA to study various options for the north airfield at LAX, including simulations that would project air traffic through 2020, and another six months for the academics to complete their study.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) continues to press for moving the runway to the north, citing dangers of incursions and other safety issues.

Community advocates respond by saying that the incursions occur through pilot or controller error, and not “airport geometry, as claimed by former FAA administrator Marion Blakey.

Denny Schneider, president of Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), sent a statement to the Board of Airport Commissioners which says that his organization “continues to support a fair and unbiased north runway safety assessment that is to be completed before decisions are made about the upcoming Specific Plan Amendment.”

“To that end, we strongly support the use of simulations by NASA with oversight and interpretation by the selected academic consultants,” Schneider said.

He also emphasized that some study elements promised in the North Runway Safety Assessment Committee meetings should be included in the contractual commitment with NASA, including the following provisions:

— meetings should be held with the North Runway Safety Committee during the simulation development and assessment phases to address concerns and ensure understanding;

— simulations chosen should include the ability to assess safety impacts (improvements) of moving gate locations and/or taxiway intersections without the huge expenditure/costs to move runways;

— academic consultants must also report at public town hall meetings to explain their findings; and

— comparison of north and south runway perceived “incursion causes” should include the use of the south airfield experience since the completion of that airfield (with the runway having been moved 55 feet south and a center taxiway constructed between the two runways).

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