More big planes, terminals that look like shopping malls — and that’s not even counting the new light rail hookup

By Gary Walker

Mall developer Westfield’s planned $308-million overhaul of LAX Terminal 2 includes a brand-new dining terrace, envisioned in this company rendering

Mall developer Westfield’s planned $308-million overhaul of LAX Terminal 2 includes a brand-new dining terrace, envisioned in this company rendering

Dubbed the largest public works project in the city’s history, the ongoing modernization of Los Angeles International Airport involves $8.5 billion in spending to improve the traveler experience and ensure sustainable revenue streams for the world’s fifth-busiest airport.

The work plan, projected to last more than a decade, began in 2009 with the $1.9-billion refurbishment of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and continues past 2019 with infrastructure and safety upgrades, makeovers for other terminals and a $1.25-billion satellite concourse to make room for more large planes.

In all, the bond-funded projects are expected to create nearly 40,000 construction jobs, according to Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that oversees LAX.

“The main goal of our LAX modernization program is to significantly improve the customer-service experience and convenience to passengers, visitors and airport employees as well as improve safety and security,” said airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

Prior to construction, LAX consistently rated near the bottom for customer service among U.S. airports, she said.

“LAX could not expect to remain competitive against other U.S. airports, especially those along the West Coast, for the growing number of international travelers if we kept the status quo with the aging infrastructure we had,” Castles said.

For airline passengers, terminal makeovers will be the most noticeable changes.

Shopping mall developer Westfield Corp. — the same company that remodeled the old Fox Hills Mall — is heading up a $308-million design overhaul of Terminal 2 this year and is also taking on renovations of Terminal 6.

“The investment Westfield is making complements LAWA’s commitment to significantly upgrade the second international terminal at LAX, which serves more than 5.5 million passengers each year,” said LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, who announced her impending retirement on Tuesday. “We are investing $300 million to modernize and improve the Terminal 2 systems, and improve the energy efficiency and aesthetics of the space, which will certainly enhance the passenger experience.”

Westfield is planning to open 20 new restaurants and retail outlets in a 16,100-square-foot hospitality area inside Terminal 2.

Terminal 6, designed to reflect the spirit of a drive down Sunset Boulevard toward the coast, will have eight new restaurants and seven retail locations. Both terminals will feature new charging outlets, free Wi-Fi and lounge seating.

Westfield’s strategy is bolstered by the success of nearly completed Tom Bradley International Terminal upgrades.

“We’ve had great feedback and anecdotal stories in which passengers actually made reservations at the III Forks Steakhouse in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, as they heard the great reviews and wanted the dining experience, even though they were flying out of other terminals,” Westfield marketing director Quang Ngyuen said.

Terminal 1, which will be occupied exclusively by Southwest Airlines, is also undergoing a facelift. The $500,000-plus project, which began in September and will last through 2018, will accommodate 13 of the airline’s larger Boeing 737-800 series aircraft, with updated passenger boarding bridges, a 12-lane security screening checkpoint, an automated checked-baggage inspection and electric-vehicle chargers to support its electric ground service equipment program.

The satellite concourse and some of the improvements to the Bradley terminal are also designed to accommodate larger planes, including the Airbus 380 Super Jumbo, Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Airport landing fees — a source of $22.6 million in revenue for LAX over the past fiscal year — increase as planes get heavier and more airport employees are assigned to landing and takeoff operations.

“Because the new-generation, larger aircraft are landing at LAX with more frequency and they weigh more than earlier type aircraft, LAWA expects to receive more landing fees, but it’s not because we will be charging higher fees,” Castles said.

The satellite concourse, also expected to help curb flight delays, will be an approximately 800,000-square-foot, five-level concourse with 11 aircraft gates located on the LAX airfield about 1,300 feet west the Bradley Terminal. It will take seven years to build.

A separate but related construction effort will also connect Metro Crenshaw/LAX Line light rail passengers directly to airport terminals. Construction of an automated people mover connecting terminals to a Metro stop already being built at Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street in Westchester is expected to begin in 2017.

Castles said officials realize it will take time to turn around public perception of the passenger experience at LAX, but are optimistic that all the work will pay off.

“We are definitely turning around negative perceptions of LAX, but we still have a long way to go,” she said. “We expect customer service improvements in other terminals as current major projects are undertaken or completed in the next few years.”