The FAA has already stated unequivocally that it “considers LAX safe to use today,” and consequently there is no need to move the Northern Airfield runways, said Denny Schneider, president of ARSAC (Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion) and attorney David Voss, a member of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council and chair of the council’s Airport Relations Committee.
Schneider is also a member of the LAX Community Noise Roundtable and vice chair of the Westchester Neighbors Association.
Voss is a former commissioner of the City of Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners and Airport Policy Committee chair of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce.
Schneider and Voss presented information about the moving of the northern runway by a minimum of 340 feet, proposed by airport officials, at the first officially chartered Local Issues Committee meeting of the Westchester Democratic Club Thursday, July 19th, at the La Tijera United Methodist Church in Westchester.
LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports, the city airport agency) officials and business interests in Los Angeles are depending on the apathy of local residents and business owners in pushing forward the agenda of moving the northern runway and eliminating more homes and businesses, Schneider asserted.
LAWA is the city agency that owns LAX, LA/Ontario International Airport, LA/Palmdale Regional Airport and Van Nuys Airport.
The hidden agenda of airport officials is load balancing and capacity enhancement, Voss alleged.
“There are lots of people out there making decisions, saying you [local residents and business owners] don’t count,” said Schneider.
“We now have an open door and airport officials are trying to bring everything back from the past since the settlement agreement (between Los Angeles World Airport officials and the cities of Los Angeles, El Segundo, Culver City, Inglewood, ARSAC and other local groups),” said Voss.
Airport officials are attempting a “de novo review,” with prior proposals not being a limiting factor, said Voss.
A de novo review (Latin for “from the beginning”) would be to review something as though there had never been a legal ruling on it.
On Friday, July 20th, the day following this meeting, Voss and Schneider had attended a meeting of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, with about 75 people in attendance.
Panel members included Frank Clark, executive director of LAXTEC; Jaime de la Vega, Los Angeles deputy mayor of transportation; Jim Hahn, the former mayor; Alan Rothenberg, president of BOAC (Board of Airport Commissioners); and Melinda Yee, director of governmental affairs for United Airlines.
Schneider said the “tone of the initial panel statements was that LAX expansion of the runways is necessary (and inevitable regardless of the safety issue which was brought up once), so that the $60 billion economic engine would keep going.”
Schneider said, “During the opening remarks, Rothenberg stated that the environmental report ‘Notice of Preparation’ target is this fall.”
“None of the panel spoke in favor of leaving the north runways alone, with most stating matter-of-factly that moving north was logical,” Schneider said.
“Jaime de la Vega spoke up that we must take the impacts on surrounding communities into account, but stopped short of saying it shouldn’t be done,” said Schneider.
“Total devastation of our business district was not raised as an issue by any of the panelists,” said Schneider.
According to its Web site, LAXTEC is an airline-owned consortium (approximately 44 airlines are owners/members) that provides support for international air carriers at LAX and ensures operational reliability of certain infrastructure equipment at Tom Bradley Terminal, which is undergoing remodeling.
“Clark noted the economic importance of each overseas flight as 3,000 jobs, stating that the number of overseas flights was decreasing, and that we desperately need to improve LAX facilities to accommodate the new larger aircraft, bemoaning the fact that the current situation of remote gates as the reason flights have been shifted to San Francisco,” said Schneider.
Competitiveness has nothing to do with moving the runway, said Voss and Schneider, referring to the concerns of losing business to other cities by members of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, San Fernando Valley business interests, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Clark.
In an interview with Metro Investment Report in March 2006, Clark spoke about his perception of the importance of remodeling the international terminal, “Building and updating the facility [Tom Bradley International Terminal] so that it is comparable to other international terminals that we compete with here in the U.S. such as San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and other international gateways around the world.”
Qantas moved several flights to San Francisco, but the only reason they were at LAX was because San Francisco’s airport was undergoing renovations, said Voss.
Voss said that when the Airbus A380 landed in March at LAX, airport officials claimed that flight operations were disrupted, and “of course, they were,” because the southern runway was still closed and the Airbus A380 had to land on the northern arrival runway, where all of the other aircraft had to land because of the closure for construction.
“Airbus officials told us they don’t require the northern runway to be moved,” said Voss.
Voss and Schneider said they agree that the international terminal is old and outmoded, but remodeling it will address that issue, as well as implementing safety measures.
“If LAWA or the FAA feels strongly about unsafe north runway conditions, then close the runways immediately until changes are enacted or revert to a one-runway configuration,” said Schneider.
Terminals are outdated, bathrooms and the food are horrible, and these are all things “this side of the gate,” said Voss and Schneider.
Voss and Schneider said that a safety rationale for moving the northern runway is unsupported by incursion history and that several “improved” airfields have a worse incursion history.
They recommend other airfield improvements, such as:
ï reducing air traffic and time bunching to allow recovery from human error to avoid incidents and reduce “go-arounds”;
ï more complete control tower staffing (controller’s union has called for more staff and fewer hours);
ï runway status lights and other collision avoidance systems;
ï an in-cockpit voice warning system;
ï better air traffic control system equipment;
ï better taxiway and runway signage; and
ï increased spacing between flight operations.
All of the Westchester-Playa del Rey “community” is on the same page, and any plan that consists of these three elements has been consistently opposed since the 1990s — further damage to business district or removes additional homes, western terminal with traffic access from the west and a ring road or design that pushes traffic into the community, said Schneider.
Moving the runways north would significantly increase impacts on local residents and schools and devastate the business community, would be extremely expensive, and still wouldn’t fix the inadequate taxiways or improve terminals, he said.
The five studies (completed in one day and two nights) commissioned by airport officials were not based on a safety issue, but on the question of, “Presume it is a requirement to have Group VI aircraft (Airbus A380) and presume the only option to consider is moving the northern runway, and LAWA wrote the report,” claimed Voss and Schneider.
“It is an affront to all of us and I find it offensive,” said Voss.
Voss and Schneider said there are better ideas, a “unified” plan of all litigants, to move the runway 100 feet south, stating:
ï there would be no legal challenge causing lost time;
ï it would accommodate the A380 and other NLA (new larger aircraft);
ï the plan backsides Bradley International Terminal (a green-lighted project that can be implemented today), allowing for quicker build-out of NLA gates;
ï it would preclude the need for remote gates;
ï reconfiguration of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 would provide flexibility in handling the new larger aircraft;
ï it would move noise and pollution away from the community; and
ï it doesn’t destroy additional local businesses or homes.
Also speaking at the meeting was Edgar Saenz, an attorney and the field representative for Congresswoman Maxine Waters (35th District), who said that LAX is essentially two airports.
Waters had introduced a bill in Congress in June that would “Prohibit the Secretary of Transportation from approving under subtitle VII of title 49, U.S. Code, any project for the relocation of Runway 24R at Los Angeles International Airport, and for any other purposes.”
Schneider said that a western terminal with an entrance on Pershing Drive is tantamount to having two separate airports, and there is just not enough room on the ground or in the sky at LAX.
The FAA tracks incursion data for all airports, and over a six-year period, the southern runways have experienced 36 incursions while the northern runways have experienced only eight incursions, said Saenz.
The incursion categories are A to D, with A being the most severe, and the incursions listed for LAX rated six “Ds,” one “C” and one “B,” Saenz said.
Saenz compared the LAX data to incursions at other airports (based on 100,000 operations) and said that while LAX has a .54 incursion rate, Dallas/Ft. Worth has a .73; Phoenix a .62 and Atlanta a .60 incursion rate.
Saenz said the other three airports were newer and bigger, and have parallel runways with center taxiways, the same design that airport officials are trying to design at LAX.
Saenz said there had been only one fatal accident at LAX on the northern runways.
In 1978 a DC-10 was taking off on the northern runway and blew a tire that shredded, said Saenz.
In 1991, a U.S. Air plane was cleared to land on the northern runway, and a Sky West turboprop aircraft was cleared to take off simultaneously, resulting in a collison, with 34 fatalities, and runway spacing did not play a part in either accident, Saenz said.
Sufficient controllers, embedded runway status lights, surface detection equipment and transponder signals can be used to mitigate accidents, said Saenz.
During a question and answer period, former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who had represented District 11, said, “We’ve been lied to again. There were promises by LAWA, by the mayor, and the settlement agreement was the deal, now we’re told, butÖ” Galanter said, not finishing her sentence.
“The airport [officials] brings in experts to confuse the hell out of you,” she added.
The advantage of being retired and no longer being a public official allowed her to say what she felt, said Galanter.
Some people at the meeting questioned why Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had not addressed the question of the northern runway or shown support for the community as he had promised during his campaign for mayor.
Another person asked why airport officials and businesses would do something that would devastate the community, and Voss replied, “Follow the money trail.”
Voss and Schneider asked the audience to be constantly vigilant, contact their elected representatives and Board of Airport Commissioners president Alan Rothenberg, support Waters with her bill, and to attend every meeting that involves the northern runway expansion.