The north runways at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) are safe and their current configuration should not be changed, says a recently released study by an academic panel of experts in conjunction with NASA-Ames.
The Los Angeles International Airport North Airfield Safety Study, released Friday, February 19th, was commissioned in May 2008 at a cost of $1.4 million by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners.
“I’m thrilled by the results of this study and it shows when you do things the right way, with integrity, transparency, and the best experts from NASA and the academic panel,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, which includes LAX.
“We’ve had over 19 months of meetings on this subject and brought in every group concerned with this issue.”
“Now that the safety issue has been settled, we can concentrate on the modernization of LAX, which is the number one destination in the world and the Bradley West Terminal renovation is the first major kick of modernization, giving us the best shot at real regionalization.”
“I would like to thank the academic panel and NASA-Ames for conducting the most comprehensive airfield safety study ever done for Los Angeles International Airport,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “By dedicating approximately 21 months to extensive computer simulation and analysis, these experts have carefully considered all aspects of runway safety on the north airfield in an unprecedented level of detail.
“I have always said that I oppose a reconfiguration of the north airfield at LAX absent a clear demonstration that such a change is necessary to ensure the safety of passengers, workers, and the surrounding community.”
Villaraigosa continued, “The executive summary of the report concludes definitely that the north runways are ‘extremely safe under the current configuration’ and that is very good news for the millions of travelers who use LAX every year.”
Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman, told The Argonaut, “Multiple studies by airport design and layout experts have concluded that reconfiguring the south and north airfields are the best safety and efficiency solutions.
“Changes to LAX’s south airfield achieved their intended purpose and dramatically improved runway safety.
“Conclusions that the north airfield is safe enough now are not an argument against doing everything possible to make it even safer. We will review the latest study and recommendations,” Gregor said.
The study panel said that other alternatives would not significantly provide a greater safety factor. Such alternatives included widening the distance between the two runways, moving the northernmost runway 100 feet or 340 feet north; eliminating one of the runways; relocating one of the runways 340 feet to the south, which would mean that Terminals 1, 2 and 3 would be demolished; or doing nothing and utilizing more runway safety lights and other safety enhancements.
The panel stated that “the risk is so low, reducing that risk by a substantial percentage is of limited practical importance.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose district includes LAX, called the study’s findings “a crucial victory for residents that live near the airport, all of whom are my constituents.”
“For years I have heard from constituents who were literally at their wit’s end, unsure of the future of their homes,” she said.
“LAX is an important economic hub in my district, but this decision is the right one because it preserves schools, businesses and homes without mitigating air travel or decreasing safety standards.”
When the south airfield was reconfigured (2006-2008) and a center taxiway was installed, the prevailing argument was that the runways would be safer from incursions.
According to the online runway incursion reports from LAX, between October 1st, 2008 and September 30th, 2009 there were three incursions on the north airfield and five incursions on the south airfield. Between October 1st, 2006 and September 30th, 2007, there were five runway incursions reported on the north airfield and four on the south airfield.
“We are thrilled that the study conclusion confirms what we’ve contended for years. We thank Mayor Villaraigosa for keeping his commitment and immediately stating that expansion north will not be done under his tenure,” Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC) President Denny Schneider said.
“We also thank Councilmember Bill Rosendahl for his tireless protection of this community. Now it’s time to get on with fixing a dilapidated LAX into the safe, secure airport that we all need and deserve.”
Some air traffic controllers said that at LAX, the FAA allows arrivals on all four of the runways, something vastly different than at Atlanta International Airport.
Aircraft are supposed to land on the outboard runways first and to use the inboard runways only when needed, the controllers claimed.
Local resident Harry Rose said that there is now an academic panel confirming “what we and the traffic controllers were saying back in January 2008.”
“I am disgusted by an agency that tells us short staffing towers, regional ATC centers and flight planning center combined with a maintenance policy of ‘fix on fail’ for critical systems with no required redundancy of said systems is perfectly safe,” he said.
“I find it extremely hypocritical that this same agency chooses to challenge some of the best minds available because they approached the runway question at LAX with open minds, performed a detailed evaluation of empirical data, and came to an honest, reasoned conclusion.”
Rose alleged that the FAA “continues to push for an agenda to expand flight field capacity by whatever means that they think might work regardless of whether the surrounding infrastructure is capable of handling the generated impacts.”
The airport safety study is available online (LAX-NASS) at