LAX announced yesterday that the new center taxiway on the south runway complex has opened for business. There’s lots of talk about how this increases safety, but for the average traveler, I don’t think this really resonates without further explanation of what actually happens at the airport. So I decided to put together a little post to show you why you should care. Below you’ll see NACO airport diagrams from end of 2005/early 2006 (thanks Wikipedia) as well as the brand new one from today (pdf).
Before you walk away cursing this fairly complex-looking map, let me give you a little positioning help. You can see the terminals in the middle at the top of each diagram. Where it says C6 – that’s the ramp between United Terminals 7 and 8. The next one over is Terminal 6 where Continental, Virgin America, and others fly. Then Terminal 5 is Delta’s, Terminal 4 is American’s, and you can see half the Bradley terminal. This map is positioned so that North is straight up and the ocean is to the left.
Now, take a look at the runways. Previously, there was nothing separating them in the middle. Planes usually depart on the top runway and land on the bottom one. So, it would be typical for an airplane to land from the right and take a high speed exit on taxiway J, K, M, or T. It’s rare but not unheard of for an unfamiliar pilot to just keep rolling right on through the departure runway on his/her way to his gate. LAX has one of the worst near-miss rates and this is one of the reasons.
Now look at the new one. There are still some high speed exits that go straight through but not as many. Also, the new procedure will require that the aircraft exit on to the center taxiway before proceeding. So you might hear an aircraft directed to exit on AN and then turn on to AC. At that point, the pilot will have to wait before being cleared across the departure runway.
Hopefully that helps explain why this is good. It will help improve safety, and it’s a good investment. Unfortunately, the northern runways remain close together, and there is an active community protest to prevent the northernmost runway from moving a bit north to make room for a center taxiway. As you can imagine, I support the airport on this one in the name of safety, but then again, I don’t live in the neighborhood.
UPDATE on 6/25 @ 4p: Ian Gregor, FAA Spokesperson tells me that while my explanation is correct, the current NACO map is actually not so current. Apparently the new center taxiway now extends all the way west to where taxiway U lies. So, this is even better. NACO just hasn’t updated the file. This one says it’s good until July 3, so I assume we’ll see a new one next week.