The federal government tells us that air traffic is expected to grow by two to three times what it is today, and it has a solution that includes the reconfiguration of runways and expansion of needed capacity at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), as well as at numerous other major airports around the U.S.
For those attending the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners meeting to hear a report based on five studies commissioned by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, the city airport agency) officials to study potential alternatives to the reconfiguration of the North Airfield Complex, the presentations appeared to be the usual airport business at the local level.
But the runway reconfiguration would probably annex more of Westchester and Playa del Rey to the airport in the process.
The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners is a seven-member group of citizens that governs Los Angeles World Airports under a charter from the City of Los Angeles, with responsibility for the formulation of airport policy.
President Bush and Congress took the first decisive steps with the enactment of Vision 100 — Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, which laid out a mandate for the “Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) initiative, proposing a public/private partnership managed by the Joint Planning and Development Office, according to that office.
Next Generation is “an example of active networking technology that updates itself with real-time shared information and tailors itself to the individual needs of all U.S. aircraft,” according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documentation.
As FAA administrator Marion Blakey stated in her 2006 FAA Annual Performance Report letter to Congress, “The stakes are high. Aviation is the lifeblood of the economy.
“Conservatively, it accounts for 5.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, about ten million American jobs and $343 billion each year in earnings.”
By 2025, all aircraft and airports in U.S. airspace will be connected to the Next Generation network and will continually share information in real time to improve efficiency and safety and absorb the predicted increase in air transportation, according to the Joint Planning and Development Office.
Now, back to the issues at our local airport and the proposed reasons to reconfigure the North Airfield Complex.
The five local studies were prepared by individual groups comprised of aviation experts in many fields.
Participating groups and their reports were the Airline Pilot Association, “Los Angeles International Airport Modernization — Tomorrow is Now”; the Washington Consulting Group, Inc., “Safety Risk Assessment”; the International Aviation Management Group, Inc., “LAX North Airfield Alternatives”; the URS Corporation, “North Airfield Assessment”; and the Peer Review Group’s summary report, “LAX North Airfield Special Peer Review.”
The five studies, which were finished in a breathtaking one day and two nights, were done not to determine if there was a need to “expand” the runway lengths and reach, but to determine how the task could be done, seemingly with the most financial benefit to Los Angeles World Airports and the airline operators, and perhaps, with an eye toward noise and air pollution in the community.
Runway incursions and the safety of the community and the traveling public were the primary reasons to propose lengthening the northern runways and moving them north toward Westchester Parkway and west toward Pershing Drive, said LAWA deputy director Jim Ritchie, presenting highlights from four of the studies, and Captains Terry McVenes and John Russell of the Air Line Pilots Association, presenting their study.
Runway incursions on the South Airfield Complex accounted for 80 percent of incursions at LAX, and one south runway has now been moved south by 55 feet, and a new parallel center taxiway is currently being constructed between the south runways.
The irony is that the Southern Airfield Complex no longer meets FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) design criteria after this reconfiguration because the FAA issued new standards in March, increasing the distance required between the runway centerline and the taxiway centerline to accommodate the “Design Group VI” aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-800, according to the URS Corporation study.
Lest you think we’re done with governmental agencies, the FAA has reared its head with an “Operational Evolution Plan,” its commitment to the aviation community for building capacity and increasing efficiency in the National Aerospace System, according to FAA program information.
New runways and runway extensions provide the most significant capacity increases and, since 1999, ten new runways have opened at the 35 Operational Evolution Plan airports — of which LAX is one — providing these airports with the potential to accommodate almost 1.2 million more operations, according to FAA documentation.
The 35 airports included in the Operational Evolution Plan account for 73 percent of all passenger emplanements and the majority of air traffic delays can be traced to inadequate “throughput” (as measured by arrival and departure rates), and construction of new runways and runway extensions is the most effective method of increasing throughput, FAA documentation states.
The FAA was completely aware that the South Airfield Complex was being reconfigured for runway and taxiway improvements, since LAX was on a list prepared by the FAA, showing the completion date of the south runway.
The LAWA documentation on the South Airfield Complex states that the newly configured runway and center taxi lane would accommodate the Airbus A380 and other new larger aircraft.
Why did the FAA not notify LAWA officials that it was contemplating changing the design criteria standards to accommodate large aircraft instead of waiting to issue the new standards in March, just prior to the completion of reconfiguring the southern runway?
Was it simply failure to communicate, or was it planned to allow LAWA officials to then state that the Northern Airfield Complex would have to be reconfigured to fully accommodate large aircraft and to “balance the load” between the North and South Airfield Complex?
The new aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-800 need to have large enough runways to arrive and depart without strafing other aircraft on the runways and taxiways.
The proposed A380 taxi routes to and from the South Airfield would also impact airline operating costs, as all departures to the west will require a significant taxi distance, particularly from the remote gates and the gates at the north end of Tom Bradley International Terminal and Terminal 2, according to the URS Corp. study.
Development of the North Airfield Complex to accommodate Design Group VI (A380 and Boeing 747-800) would result in a significant decrease of time and distance required for these aircraft to taxi to and from the runway, states the URS Corp. study.
NORTH AIRFIELD COMPLEX — The North Airfield Complex has two parallel operational 150-foot-wide runways that are oriented in an east-west direction — 24L/06R, which is 10,285 feet long, and Runway 24R/06L, which is 8,925 feet long.
The two runways are separated by 700 feet, with high-speed exits that go directly into the adjacent runway, and without a parallel center taxiway, according to the Washington Consulting Group, Inc.
The proposed system would relocate Runway 24R/06L 340 feet north and extend it an additional 1,495 feet to the west, for a total length of 10,420 feet, and would probably remain a primary arrival runway, according to the Washington Consulting Group, Inc.
Runway 24L/06R would be extended 135 feet west, and 1,280 feet east, for a total length of 11,700 feet, and would probably remain a primary departure runway.
The proposed configuration provides a 1,040-foot separation between the parallel runways —a significant change that would remove high-speed exits directly into the adjacent runway, according to the Washington Consulting Group, Inc.
A proposed new parallel center taxiway would be 10,420 feet long and 100 feet wide, planned as a full-length modified Group VI parallel taxiway located 520 feet north of Runway 24L/06R and 520 feet south of Runway 24R/06L, according to the study.
“All of the alternatives require changes to surrounding roadway systems and land uses, particularly those in the vicinity of the intersection of South Sepulveda Boulevard and Westchester Parkway, and the required changes become more extensive as the separation between the taxiways increases and the outboard runway is shifted further north,” says the URS Corporation study.
The URS Corp. study states that two options were examined for developing airfield layouts. The first option examined would be to maintain the outboard runway in its current location and shift taxiways and the inboard runway to the south toward the existing terminal facilities area.
This approach requires the reconfiguration of existing terminal concourses and aircraft gates in their current location and shifting taxiways and runways to the south, according to the URS Corp. study.
These layouts are labeled Alternatives One through Five in the study, and explore a range of potential runway and taxiway separations that would provide various operational capabilities, and each operation has been prepared with an “A” and “B” version, states the URS Corp. study.
The “A” version limits each alternative to Pershing Drive to the west and the existing landing threshold of runway 24R-6L to the east.
The “B” version also assumes whatever land use and roadway changes are needed at the east end of the runway to accommodate additional runway length could occur, the URS Corp. study stated.
The Washington Consulting Group stated in its “Assumptions” that “Aircraft traffic operations will continue to generate complexities as increased activities with Design Group V and VI aircraft use the Northern Airfield Complex.”
LAX is primarily known as an “air carrier” airport. All of the major U.S. domestic and numerous U.S. international air carriers are the primary users of the airport, with a significant number of non-U.S. international air carriers also using LAX, states Washington Consulting Group, Inc. documentation.
The Washington Consulting Group study continues, “The U.S. Air Force also operates at LAX, mostly using the C-5A, C-17, and the C-130 aircraft.
“The aircraft mix consists of the very largest to the very smallest aircraft types on an hourly and daily basis, every day of the year, 24 hours each day.
“This fleet includes all of the Boeing commercial aircraft types, including the projected use of the 787 series, and the largest daily concentration of Boeing 747s of any U.S. Airport.
“The Airbus A380 is planned for daily commercial service starting in 2008 from LAX, and at the same time, nearly one-third of the daily operations at LAX are made by small commuter aircraft with 30 to 50 seats.”
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION — McVenes and Russell told the audience that the Air Line Pilots Association is “the conscience of the airline industry,” and that “schedule with safety” has been their motto for 76 years.
The Air Line Pilots Association prepared its own study, based on the experiences and observations of the more than 60,000 professional airline pilots flying for 40 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, piloting 32 different types of aircraft in and out of more than 700 airports worldwide.
McVenes and Russell said that the pilots association “strongly recommends” 623 feet of separation, but not less than 550 feet of runway/taxiway separation.
“Airport property to the north extends beyond Westchester Parkway, and sufficient land is available, impact on noise will be negligible, and noise-impacted Westchester residences have been sound-insulated at LAX expense,” the pilots association study states.
McVenes and Russell also said that “ongoing runway incursions and other safety problems demand a better runway/taxiway design,” citing pilot fatigue suffered after a long-haul flight.
On the South Airfield, pilots of the A380 would be required to make a turn to the left rather than the right, as is customary for other airplanes, and one of the pilots said that “from personal experience, when landing after a long international flight, it can be very difficult to remember whether the tower cleared (the aircraft) to land.”
“It is easy to imagine a fatigued crew, who watched the three preceding aircraft turn to the right, also turning right when instructed to turn left, and who will issue that instruction and when will that instruction be given,” said McVenes and Russell.
The two pilots also said that no U.S. airline has orders for the A380, and that communication with the air controllers, as well as safety, is jeopardized because “English is aviation’s primary language, but it is a second language for the A380 pilots, and communications confusion is a primary cause of runway incursions.”
RUNWAY INCURSIONS AND CONTROLLERS — Ritchie presented highlights from the other four studies, each outlining how runway incursions and other safety problems mandate the need to move the northern runways.
According to LAWA data on runway incursions this year, from January 1st to May 6th, there were three runway incursions at LAX; one controller error on the South Field Air Complex on February 25th; and two pilot errors on the North Airfield Complex, February 24th and May 6th.
One could deduce that the two errors on the north runways happened partially because one south runway was closed for construction and the north runway was handling more air traffic to compensate.
From January 1st to December 21st last year, there were nine runway incursions, with two occurring on the North Airfield Complex on February 17th, both controller errors.
The remaining seven incursions, all pilot error (two were business jets) occurred on the South Airfield Complex.
The Washington Consulting Group, Inc. study states that “FAA controllers provide separation services between the landing and departing aircraft, transfer control of aircraft on instrument flights when the aircraft leave their airspace, and receive control of aircraft on instrument flights coming into their airspace from controllers at adjacent facilities.
LAX demands a full complement of air traffic controllers on every shift, with the 24-hour, 365-days-a-year use of the airport, and the arrival of the new larger aircraft, it would border on the criminal to put the lives of passengers, air crews and the community at risk by not scheduling the required number of controllers.
Los Angeles World Airports officials speak of the runway incursions and the need for longer, wider runways, a parallel center taxiway and reconfigured taxiways, but that would only provide more opportunities for more incursions if the basic problems aren’t addressed, such as pilot and controller training and communication, and proper safety measures on the ground with appropriate lighting, markings, signage and technology applications that can warn of potential hazards.
The Washington Consulting Group, Inc. states in its study that “hear-back-read-back or aircraft crossing an active runway without clearance from the air traffic controllers still occurs, as recently as February 24th.”
Hear-back-read-back refers to the pilot repeating what he heard back to the controller, or reading back what the controller has instructed.
Will an A380 pilot who is deficient in English and has difficulties communicating with the air traffic controllers, as mentioned by Captains McVenes and Russell, perform better with a longer, wider runway that has more large aircraft waiting their turn to land or take off?
It should be obvious that a financial interest in LAX is not just at the government level, nor by the airline operators or the operators of LAX, but also by the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in bringing business to Los Angeles.
The problem is that those financial interests conflict with the interests of the residents who have homes and businesses and whose children attend schools not only in Westchester and Playa del Rey, as well as people who live beneath the flight path of aircraft coming to and leaving LAX.
If the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners takes a good look at the proposed plans for reconfiguring the North Airfield Complex, it will hopefully focus on the interests of the local community, and not just on the financial harvest that the city and our government will reap if a reconfiguration plan is approved.
The airport commission’s vice president, Val Velasco, is a resident of Playa del Rey and a champion of keeping LAX growth in check, and she knows first-hand what kind of devastation the community would undergo.
Perhaps Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could stand behind his campaign promise to not increase air traffic at LAX, working along with the members of the Los Angeles City Council, to find a better way to deal with the new larger aircraft that will otherwise decimate two communities that have seen it all before.
A suggestion would, rather than to move the runway into the community, be to take all of the new larger aircraft and move them to Palmdale where, if the pilots are fatigued or lack command of the English language sufficient to communicate with air traffic controllers, they at least have a really large desert area at hand in case they run out of runway space.
A high-speed rail or a maglev (magnetic levitation) train could be built, with passengers from the A380 and other new larger aircraft speeding toward Los Angeles (it would certainly beat a trip on the freeways, and the rest of us could look on with envy), but more so with a sense of great accomplishment in true aviation regionalization.