Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials told the Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC) that they are planning to conduct greater in-depth studies of two options for the northern runways at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to enhance safety.
LAWA executive director Gena Marie Lindsey said the first option would involve moving the northern airfield 260 feet to the north, into the two communities. The second option is the “no-build” option, which would instead focus on reconfigurations of two taxiways, while leaving the northern runways as they are.
Members of both communities spoke out strongly against moving the northern airfield at all, and recommended taxiway improvements, installation of electronics such as Runway Status Lights, better runway marking, repairing the poor infrastructure and condition of LAX buildings and other refurbishments that are necessary.
Lindsey said the two options being presented were a compromise between accommodating larger aircraft with a center taxiway between the northern runways and mitigating potential collision risks between departures and arrivals.
These two options will be included with two other options that will be studied in depth for the draft environmental impact report anticipated for public review in January.
Lincoln and Sepulveda boulevards would require reconfiguration if the northern runway is moved toward the north. Denny Schneider, president of ARSAC (Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion) told The Argonaut that a 740-foot decommissioned tunnel segment built in the 1960s under Runway 24R within a known aquifer area, major sewer lines, capped water and oil wells, and more, could complicate the construction.
Schneider said that some of this activity will require extensive multi-jurisdictional coordination and could also cause substantial delays of fixing roadways and closed runways. He pointed out that when shared costs for roadway improvements are not directly associated with LAX, these funds must be acquired from those available for all other projects in the region.
BOAC commissioner Val Velasco asked about the consequence to properties in the communities with a move toward the communities of any degree.
Lindsey said that the FAA is aware of significant development on the east end of the runways and has agreed to work with airport officials regarding the total amount of land area required for safety improvements. “I don’t want to say ‘all clear’ because some properties might be acquired over time,” said Lindsey.
Velasco also thanked Lindsey for the strong efforts being made by LAWA officials to narrow down as much as possible the potential encroachment upon the communities.
The 2005 Record of Decision approved the LAX airport layout exempting buildings currently inside the Runway Protection Zone. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since further expanded its requirements, which if implemented, would severely impact properties, especially the business district, noted Schneider.
He said, “Since only the FAA has the authority to invoke or waiver these requirements, the FAA should provide its position on this in writing prior to approval of any plan. Assurances by other entities are ‘advisory only’ since they have no authority to make promises.”
In trying to meet the FAA’s standards intention of pilots seeing the end of a runway, or “line of sight,” Lindsey said that it is so key, and that it would be easy to say moving the runway 300 feet north would meet those standards, but LAWA officials keep testing smaller and smaller separations to see how close they can get to achieving the “line of sight.” She said that there is a huge difference between 200 and 300 feet.
Lindsey said all options to move the runway, from 100 to 400 feet remain in the background, and the FAA design standards would move runways 400 feet north for a center taxiway for an A380.
The FAA also wants a 90-degree angle for a parking requirement to achieve line of sight for pilots to see where they’re headed.
El Segundo Mayor Eric Busch said that LAX proximity has been beneficial to his city, and that even though they had opposed moving the south airfield to build a center taxiway, putting the runway closer to El Segundo, he believes that Playa del Rey and Westchester need to accept that safety improvements are necessary on the northern airfields.
The FAA continues to recommend a separation of the runways and the addition of a center taxiway for safety reasons that would create a buffer zone for pilots to slow down and hold for clearance before taxiing to the terminal.
One speaker told the commission that having aircraft taking off from the reconfigured northern runway complex would impact Inglewood, Baldwin Hills and other communities. He spoke of environmental justice, and said “we can’t negatively impact one community to relieve another.”
Schneider told the commission that there is no reason not to move the runways south 340 feet for the Group VI aircraft. Robert Acherman, vice president of ARSAC said he had spoken with Bill Withycombe of the FAA and that Withycombe told him that “the FAA is fine with moving 340 feet south.”
Velasco asked if airport officials studied moving the airfield 150 feet north and found that it worked, would that option then be available as a choice. Lindsey said if it worked it was possible to refine the options.
Velasco suggested a presentation to the new board members to acquaint them with last year’s NASA/academic panel study results of north airfield safety by at least one of the professors involved in that NASA safety study.
That study found that the LAX north airfield is extremely safe for projected 2020 traffic levels and traffic mix.
Commissioner Walter Zifkin said he agreed, but wanted the comments from the FAA that disagreed with some parts of the study, made after the study results came out, also made available.
“The 260 [feet] north idea is yet another version of the same plan that NASA and the professors deemed unnecessary for safety purposes,” said Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX.
Rosendahl said he supports a set of taxiway improvements proposed by LAWA to enhance runway safety on the LAX north airfield without moving the runways further into Westchester and Playa del Rey.
“This year we are scheduled to complete the Runway Status Lights project at LAX, and it will do far more to solve the human error problem than anything else that has been proposed.
Schneider told The Argonaut, “It’s time to stop rehashing the same basic options over and over and fix LAX. Moving runways north is lunacy. It is high risk in terms of the long time it could cause runway closures due to construction and the costs will be billions of dollars. It relies on construction and repair of two tunnels that will both be under the control of CalTrans. At least the new no runway movement option addresses taxiway improvements that could provide more efficiency and safety improvements than the center taxi lane.”