Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is requesting the city Board of Airport Commissioners and Los Angeles World Airports officials to address new safety issues raised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the recently completed NASA safety study on the north airfield of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
In a statement issued Tuesday, April 6th, Villaraigosa said that a letter from FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt dated April 2nd includes new important points and information, and that the FAA “has raised serious safety questions that cannot be ignored.”
In his letter, Babbitt said, “I urge you, along with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, to reconfigure the north airfield.
“The FAA stands ready to assist the city and Los Angeles World Airports to address the known safety risks, improve efficiency, and meet the design standards on the LAX north airfield.”
Villaraigosa said, “I continue to oppose a reconfiguration of the north airfield at LAX absent a clear demonstration that such a change is necessary to ensure the safety of passengers, workers and the surrounding community.”
The recent Los Angeles International Airport North Airfield Safety Study was the most comprehensive study to date and concluded that “they cannot construct a compelling argument on safety grounds alone for reconfiguring the north airfield,” Villaraigosa said. The letter from the FAA administrator raised issues with the study’s methodology and conclusions, the mayor added.
In Babbitt’s letter, he states that “the only complete solution for LAX’s safety and efficiency needs must include airfield geometry designed to accommodate modern aircraft.”
Babbitt cites two runway incursions on the north airfield runways — one on March 6th, and another on March 16th — saying that “the circumstances behind these incidents were all too familiar.
“The March 6th incursion, like many before it, occurred because there is no physical buffer separating arriving aircraft from aircraft that are taking off on the inner runway. Moreover, the March 16th incursion underscored the difficulty of operating large aircraft on the cramped north field,” Babbitt stated.
“I am concerned that the most recent North Airfield Safety Study (NASS) will be used as a reason not to pursue this solution. That would be a serious mistake. The FAA conducted a detailed review of the study and identified several critical flaws in the study’s assumptions, methodology and conclusions,” said Babbitt.
The FAA administrator added that an enclosed document outlining these technical concerns was included with the letter.
Babbitt said that the north airfield study “recognizes that increasing runway separation and building a center taxiway would reduce the chances of a runway collision. But surprisingly, the study’s summary conclusions downplay that finding; suggesting the airfield is safe enough now. The data and the two incursions suggest otherwise.”
He continued, “The status quo is not good enough for the FAA and the City of Los Angeles should not view it as good enough for the traveling public. Everything possible must be done to make the north airfield as safe as it can be.”
Babbitt points out that reconfiguration of the north airfield would address “equally important issues of standards and efficiency,” because the present configuration doesn’t meet design standards for many of the large aircraft using the airport. The FAA is forced to implement “workarounds” to manage these aircraft, adding an unnecessary level of complexity to an already demanding operating environment, he said.
“In addition, a north airfield reconfiguration would relieve congestion caused by the outdated design, thus improving efficiency at one of the world’s busiest airports,” said Babbitt.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes LAX said, “No one, anywhere, has conducted as comprehensive a safety analysis on any airfield as NASA and the academic panel did on the LAX north runways. That the FAA wants us now to reject the conclusions of that study based on little more than conjecture is not just offensive, but seriously calls into question the FAA’s process for determining safety at our nation’s largest airports.
“Congress, the GAO, the NTSB, and a number of other governmental agencies continue to urge the FAA to pay closer attention to dangerously low controller staffing levels at airport towers like LAX, and to focus on rolling out critical new safety technologies like NextGen, Runway Status Lights, and Electronic Flight Bags.
“Yet their letter to the mayor today virtually ignores those concerns. Given the overwhelming evidence we now have that our north runways are exceedingly safe, I no longer have any doubt in my mind that FAA’s real motivation has been expansion, expansion, expansion all along,” Rosendahl said.