When I was a kid, I loved the Los Angeles Rams. I still have autographs from some of the all-time greats (including Eric Dickerson) from when my Tiger Cub pack visited the practice fields. And until my son recently lost it, I wore my old Rams hat all the time. As you can imagine, I couldn’t be more excited to have the team coming back home where they belong.
While I’d love to write a post about the Rams just because… that would be pretty stupid since this site is about the airline industry. Fortunately, as @PointsToPointB reminded me, there is a way to connect the Rams to aviation. That fancy new stadium the owner wants to build? The FAA isn’t so happy about it.
To understand why, you have to look at a map of the new stadium.
If you’ve flown into LAX and sat on the right side of the aircraft, you’ve probably seen this spot many times. This is the former location of the legendary Hollywood Park horse track. Just to its north lies the Forum, home to the Lakers (and others) until the Staples Center opened downtown in 1999.
Hollywood Park had been in decline for some time and it finally shut down two years ago. It seems like a great spot for a new stadium, alongside a bunch of other stuff. When it’s done, it’ll be a giant entertainment complex. But as you can see, it lies a mere two miles east of the southernmost runways at LAX.
You might think the FAA would balk at this project because of terrorism concerns, but that’s the Department of Homeland Security’s job. The FAA is concerned for another reason.
…the FAA preliminarily determined the structure could have an effect on radars that track aircraft inbound to LAX. Specifically, the height of the structure could create false aircraft images or unstable images on controllers’ radarscopes.
This report came out back in November, but it wasn’t really an issue until the Rams were approved to move. Now something has to be done.
The radar equipment at LAX is needed to show radar returns for arriving aircraft (most of the time, that’s how aircraft arrive, runways don’t change except at night and on rare bad weather days). And apparently the height of the stadium can mess with those radar images. Whether this is a “planes will crash” real type of problem or a “cell phones mess with airplanes” fake type of problem is unclear.
This all seems strange to me since there are plenty of airports with taller buildings within a couple miles, but it’s the precise location of this project right near the final approach paths for the runways that appears to be creating the concern.
What’s strange is that this stadium was designed specifically with aircraft in mind. Another stadium was proposed twenty years ago that, as the LA Times noted, was given the all clear from the FAA. That was one was 8 feet taller than this one. This stadium was designed to be sunken 100 feet into the earth in order to keep the building about 150 feet above the ground.
But the height isn’t the only concern. There’s also the issue of the materials being used and how they’ll influence radar. The clear roof will be made of ETFE, a fancy material that’s clear, lightweight, easy to clean, and incredibly strong. It’s being used in the roof of the new Minnesota Vikings’ stadium and will be an artistic roof over the Rams’ stadium as well.
As of now, the FAA is in talks with the stadium owners to figure out how to address the concerns. It could mean reducing the stadium’s height, but that would likely require chopping off 100 feet or so. That’s a lot and is entirely unlikely. Otherwise, it’s possible that the use of certain materials might help mitigate the issue.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. We know that a stadium is being built on this site. Now the question is whether the design is going to have to change or not. As long as I can get season tickets with a view of the approach, I’ll be happy.