Responding to eight runway close calls at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in less than a year, including two last month, California State Assemblyman Ted Lieu has called for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to cut the number of flights at the airport.
Lieu, who represents the LAX area in the 53rd Assembly District, sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey late last month recommending that the agency immediately reduce the number of flights coming in and out of LAX until all safety issues at the airport have been addressed.
The letter also suggests that the spacing between flights be increased and flights be shifted out of LAX to other regional airports.
Lieu’s proposal comes after three safety incidents occurred at the airport in August, including one runway incursion in which two jets reportedly came as close as 37 feet to colliding.
“The increase in the number of flights into and out of LAX has directly contributed to the safety crisis at LAX,” Lieu said. “The FAA needs to order the airlines to shift flights out of LAX to the other airports in Los Angeles and Orange County.
“It’s long past time for there to be a true regional airport system.”
David Ford, spokesman for Lieu, said the assemblyman believes that some flights at LAX should be diverted to other regional airports because the airport is “overburdened” with the amount of air traffic it receives.
While the FAA has attributed the most recent runway close calls at LAX to pilot and controller error, Ford said there is a higher chance for human error to occur with an increased number of flights coming in and out of the airport.
“The more flights you have to handle, the more chance you have for human error,” Ford said.
But FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said that the two most recent runway incursions on the airport’s north runways were not related to flight volume, but rather the design of the runways and human error.
“The two recent runway incursions on the north airfield had nothing to do with flight volume and everything to do with airfield geometry,” Gregor said.
Eight runway incursions have occurred at LAX since October, Gregor said. The FAA has yet to classify the seriousness of the two most recent incidents, he said.
Gregor added that Lieu’s recommendation to reduce flights at LAX is “not a practical proposal” because if the flight volume were to be constrained at the world’s fourth-busiest airport it would create serious and detrimental effects, causing flights to be delayed throughout the country.
At a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce late last month, Blakey, who will soon step down as FAA administrator for another position, told officials that the northern runways are an issue of safety and that the north airfield project needs to get done to better handle large jets such as the Airbus A380.
In the letter to Blakey, Lieu also urged the FAA to review Los Angeles World Airports’ (LAWA, the city agency that operates LAX) proposed expansion of the airport to accommodate the Airbus A380 “mega-jumbo” jets.
“I believe LAWA’s expansion of LAX is unwarranted and will result in additional traffic congestion as well as safety problems at an already overburdened airport,” Lieu said. “The FAA should not approve the A380 to land at LAX until all safety issues are resolved first.”
Local elected officials, including Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Congresswoman Jane Harman and County Supervisor Don Knabe, also addressed the north runway issue in a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The letter was in response to the recent Board of Airport Commissioners approval to spend $2 million for the NASA Ames Research Center to conduct a sixth study on the north airfield.
The elected officials told the mayor that they were surprised by the Board of Airport Commissioners approval, saying it “expanded the focus of the NASA study beyond the issue of safety.”
The three officials asked the mayor to instruct the Board of Airport Commissioners to restore the study’s original scope as recommended by the North Airfield Safety Advisory Committee.