At its meeting last month, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s Airport Relations Committee addressed the reconfiguration of Los Angeles International Airport’s northernmost runway hundreds of feet closer to Westchester and Playa del Rey as proposed by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials.
Denny Schneider, the chair of the committee, reviewed the proposed alternatives and Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of LAWA, was in attendance to discuss the proposed runway reconfiguration.
Lindsey said what is important to her is the relationship between the airport and the community.
“We are embarking not entirely because we’re excited about it but because we need to on the Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS). In doing so it is going to uncover some difficult issues and contentious possibilities that have been around, and that you have all been wrestling with for many, many years,” said Lindsey.
“I guess what I would hope as a result of what is undoubtedly going to be another couple of years of work, is that we could get this thing resolved, one way or the other. Now our intent in going forward with this includes a huge amount of changed situations from when the Alternative D solution (of the master plan) was approved.
“Some of the more salient are clearly that the traffic is going to be different than what was anticipated,” she added.
Lindsey said officials are looking at both air side and ground side issues. She noted there are a couple of combinations of improvements on the land side that “we’re throwing out into the Notice of Preparation (NOP) as alternatives, and there are about five alternatives from the air side.”
“Focusing on the north air side, and the issues we’re trying to resolve from an airport planning standpoint are how to meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines to meet the fleet mix that is anticipated under the weather conditions that we typically have here in Los Angeles,” said Lindsey.
She said she told her staff that they need to take a pure planning approach to this issue, an analytical approach that identifies and “ferrets out the information.”
“We’ve started by identifying what it would take to meet FAA standards in all weather conditions. That gets us to a surprising number for all of you, which is a separation of 400 feet,” said Lindsey.
Airport officials have backed off in asking what it would take to meet FAA standards in good weather conditions, saying that number was not 340 feet, but 300 feet, she said. The next alternative is a 300-foot separation for Group VI aircraft — A380s and 747-800s, she added.
“Then if we go to a 200-foot separation, that gives us design Group V standards, but not Group VI under any weather conditions.
With a 100-foot separation it can get us a centerline taxiway,” Lindsey said.
In addition to the alternatives mentioned, Lindsey said the Alternative D option needs to be studied because it’s the approved option. A “no build” option must also be considered.
She pointed out that the SPAS Advisory Committee had a discussion about addressing the movement of the runway 100 feet south, and that staff is in the process of drawing up the proposal to see what it would look like.
Regarding the proposed alternatives, airport officials are looking for an operationally efficient airfield that provides environmental benefits, not environmental “dis-benefits.”
“The thing that I feel most strongly about, besides being analytically rigorous and pure, is that we share everything we have with you when we have it,” Lindsey said.
“We pledge to be absolutely open with everything we’ve got. Now if we start suing each other that will change, but until that happens, and I hope it doesn’t, we will share everything we have. We will be at any forum you want us to be at, and we will discuss anything with anybody.
“That is my pledge, which is partially why I wanted to be here with all of you because I want to acknowledge that we’re going to have some difficult discussions going forward because I’d be an absolute fool not to know that several of these alternatives are not favorites of yours. I understand that,” Lindsey told the committee.
She said she hopes that they can continue to have a dialogue and a conversation about the subject.
Schneider said that as a result of the 2006 settlement agreement, the SPAS Advisory Committee is working on the plan amendment study, and that there are specific criteria.
One of the discoveries made by the committee in reviewing the alternatives was that not only was there an option for the runway to move north, but also west, said Schneider.
Lindsey said that in Alternative D, the runway that was identified was 10,000 feet, a longer runway than what is there now, by a couple thousand feet.
“They don’t think that’s necessary, and part of what we’re trying to do is aggregate what needs to be achieved here,” she noted.
In taking a look at the fleet mix and the use for the outboard runway, officials believe the runway can essentially be the same length that it is today, she explained.
“The inboard runway needs to be lengthened because it doesn’t meet the runway safety area standards for the FAA. That was in Alternative D as well,” said Lindsey.
Schneider noted that there is virtually nothing on the airfield today that isn’t wavered for not meeting current standards, and Lindsey agreed.
In the options being suggested, LAWA is not proposing lengthening the outboard runway but proposing to “slide” it west a little over 600 feet in order to move the runway safety areas (RSA) out of the way of existing single-family homes, explained Lindsey. There are commercial structures and single-family homes in the RSA today.
“We’re thinking that there is a potential community benefit to actually sliding the runway a bit west and getting those homes out of the RSA,” said Lindsey.
Schneider said he wanted to clarify for the audience that there are two key safety issues with regard to the FAA requirements. One is the RSA, a short area of a couple hundred feet at the direct end of the runway, and a much larger area that moves in a trapezoidal shape at increasing heights as it goes away from the runway, he said.
“The bottom line is that both of those have been changed several times over the course of history, and the FAA’s requirement on this is up to Revision 13,” said Schneider.
“When the south airfield was worked on, the airport commissioners were told at that time that they were meeting Group VI requirements when they built the runway 50 feet south, and adding a runway safety area,” said Schneider.
He told Lindsey that he wanted to make sure they were all “talking on the same wavelength” in covering these issues.
Danna Cope, one of the airport committee members, asked about leaving the runway the same length but moving it west. That would shift the noise and pollution impact closer to Playa del Rey, she said.
Lindsey said that would be the case if it were a primary landing runway with planes landing east, but it’s a primary landing runway the bulk of the time. About 96 or 97 percent of the time, the planes are landing west, so the noise is on the east end, not the west end, she noted.
“Moving runways west is just as unacceptable – period – because it will greatly impact many of the Playa del Rey residences during takeoff,” said Schneider. “Claiming reduced impact because LAWA designates the northern runway, 24R, as preferred for landings is misleading. The decision to choose a runway for takeoffs is solely the FAA’s decision and 24R is used for takeoffs at least 20 percent of the time.
Lindsey said that all of the options would be analyzed for not only constructability but also noise, air emissions, and the airfield design.
“We would know before there is any recommendation to go forward with something like this whether there was any noise impact with that move or not,” Lindsey pointed out.
Cope said one problem is that the FAA waits until an airport is built and then suggests where the flight path should be. She asked if the flight path would cross over the east Westchester residential area if the runway is moved west.
One of Lindsey’s staff members said he couldn’t see the large aircraft making such a move, but perhaps turboprop airplanes might, and Lindsey said that was one of the issues that required clarification.
Some audience members commented that the community doesn’t believe that any runway movement is necessary, and that community members are determined to protect residential and business stakeholders.
Schneider said that neighborhood council members are concerned that totally unacceptable alternatives will be evaluated in the environmental impact report (EIR).
Other concerns expressed were that the definition of objectives to be used by LAWA in a preliminary screening of alternatives will preclude the limited/minimal impacting alternatives in favor of high impacting alternatives, said Schneider.
“Committee and community members want to ensure that all detailed elements of each alternative are clearly spelled out so that we know what is being studied,” he said.
Another concern was that if safety is being utilized as an excuse for runway expansion, the costs of the master plan alternatives, relative to their effectiveness when compared to all other options, is limited.
Schneider asked how much a diversion of money to runway improvement would subvert other safety-impacting situations such as poor passenger traffic flow causing potential auto accidents or maintaining structures that could collapse and kill people.
The Specific Plan Amendment Study is online for review by clicking on “Specific Plan Amendment Study Advisory Committee,” then “Aug. 16 presentation and Aug. 9 presentation” at: