Los Angeles May Have the Rams Back, But the FAA Has Problems with the Stadium


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.

Rams LAX 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.

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38 comments on “Los Angeles May Have the Rams Back, But the FAA Has Problems with the Stadium

  1. As a loyal – and usually sad – Mets fan, if Citi Field and LGA can peacefully co-exist, why can’t this?

  2. Citi Field is well off the center line for runway 13/31, and as a result does not cast a radar shadow for approaching and departing flights from that Runway. The proposed Rams stadium is almost directly off the center line of both pairs of runways at LAX,. That and I think it is a generally bad idea to put very large numbers of people essentially directly underneath the final approach at an airport. I can already hear the noise complaints from the fans. I think this is a really bad idea.

    How many people do you think will die if a Twin Aisle SNAFU’s the approach and crashes into the Stadium on a Sunday Afternoon with 70,000+ fans in the stadium? Think it cannot happen? That’s about the 777 that came up short of the Runway at SFO a few years ago.

    There was a proposal to build what is now University of Phoenix Stadium due East of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport along the Salt River. The story that was circulated was that the FAA had no objections. It turned out the FAA had never been asked, and when they were finally asked, they raised plenty of objections to the location (which is why the stadium was eventually built in Glendale).

  3. I know when they added runway 17/35 at MSP years ago there were several nearby structures that had to be demolished, but I think that was due to them being directly in the glide path very close to the threshold of the runway. Nearby is the behemoth Mall of America that is larger and taller than most NFL stadiums and I’ve never heard a complaint about that, but it also predates the the nearest runway.

    One would think that in 2016 there is a solution/compromise between the architectural design and the radar technology available.

    1. The only planes I saw near MOA were taking off. I believe & if I’m wrong please correct me – most planes to MSP land from the west & east & take off to the south towards the Mall of America.

      1. Nah, about half the time they land “over” MOA to land on 35 – though the centerline passes more like a half mile from the east ramp of the mall.

      2. I’ve been on dozens of planes (incidentally one last week) where I had a perfect view of the MOA out the left windows on landing at MSP.

  4. LGA is a bad example, as they do not have radar at the airport. Depending on where they are, the controllers in Westbury use either EWR or JFK’s radar to conduct operations into and out of LGA.

    1. The only issue at midway is that planes have to be prepped for a water landing in case they land in a pool across the street from runway 31C.

  5. Oh well, it will give Hollywood a chance to made a new disaster movie with a jumbo jet crashing into the stadium during a Super Bowl game. It will be like the 70’s all over again, to bad Charlton Heston won’t be able to save the day again.

      1. I knew the Blimp movie, but I was going for Hesston because of the three disaster movies he was in during the 70s including one that takes place on Los Angeles. Skyjacked, Airport 1975 and Earthquake. But Black Sunday does have Bruce Dern one of the better crazy bad guys from that era….lol

  6. Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona is just south of the final approach to Sky Harbor International Airport. I’ve been a Cardinals season ticket holder for many years, and when they played at Sun Devil, I’d watch the airplanes fly just north of the stadium when the football game was bad; and most of the time in those years, the football was particularly bad.

    1. I think this stadium is ment not just for football, but many other uses including television studios for NFL Network.

    2. JB – It’s not actually an enclosed stadium. It just has a clear roof to protect from the elements (if there ever are any). But the sides are open and it won’t be climate-controlled. Why they bothered to do this, I have no idea. Seems like a design element more than anything else. But SEAN is right, it’s going to be used for a lot of stuff including headquarters for NFL Network, possibly the Pro Bowl, and there are rumors in the long run the combine might move too. So they probably do want something that can never be disrupted by rain.

    3. Because people in LA can’t deal with the slightest amount of drizzle.

      Seriously, a roof over a stadium in California is just a dumb idea. Actually, a roof over any football stadium is a bad idea. Football should be played outdoors.

        1. That would be so fun to watch.

          But, I still don’t get why they would put a roof for the one time in a decade it might rain during a football game in LA.

          1. The “roof” provides the ability to host the Final Four and similar events. Potentially enhances the 2024 Olympic bid, as well.

    1. Eric – I thought about that too, but the tall buildings in San Diego are south of the approach. So I can only assume that’s enough to avoid any trouble.

      1. What about the approach in the old hong kong airport? Those you tube videos certainly have tall buildings on final approach seem, almost normal…

        1. Those obstacles on the ‘over the city’ approach to old Hong Kong Airport are one of the reasons it is the ‘old’ Hong Kong Airport. Fairly serious accidents weren’t especially rare, and I don’t know any pilot who was EVER comfortable

          flying the ‘over the city’ approach. Just because the obstacles are there doesn’t make having them a good idea! I don’t know of anyone hitting any of those obstacles, but the act of maneuvering over and around them resulted in

          a fair number of dings on landing. It certainly wasn’t an approach for the faint hearted….

  7. I’m really curious how much of this is due to older technology.

    The radar installation is at a fixed location, the building will be at a fixed location, its not as if the blip on the radar will move.

  8. I am less concerned about radar than about 70k souls crammed together in one building directly under final approach. That jjust seems like a great way to add several zeros to the casualty count if/when an accident occurs during a game.

    From the airport side, I would also worry about being forced to potentially do irrops or change to a less efficient pattern when large events are being held at the stadium.

  9. Maybe me, but, looking on your map and extending the runways towards the stadium to accomodate a straight line approach, none seems to pass directly over the proposed stadium !

    1. Seems like it goes over the corner of it. That being said, they might be concerned with the radar shadow as the planes comes in.

      And when it comes to crashes there is that whole planes don’t always crash on the runway centerline.

  10. If the LA stadium is an issue, how did Levis stadium get built about the same distance off the end of the runway at SJC? It’s very close to the take off pattern from 12R.

  11. Clearly written by a non-pilot, yes cell phones do mess with airplanes, ever have that dit-dit-dit noise on your computer speakers when your cell phone was too close? That is what we have to listen to when you selfish “cheaters” are in the back of the plane texting oon short final. The next time you go around, look around at anyone using a cell phone. did the pilot hear “cleared to land” or dit-dit-dit? The worst case is not hearing “Go_Around” because some baggage cart is crossing the runway and pilot only hears sit-dit-dit.

    Now on to the stadium and the radar. The radar can be moved or a second hi-res system installed, but who pays for that? To Answer SouthbayFlier, Levi’s stadium is slightly farther and since the world of precision approaches are build on 3 degree paths, it is very different to radar.

    Even if you get the city to pay for the new Radar, Those aren’t the only problems, when LAX fogs in, the glow of the stadium lights can become quite distracting at a critical time in flight. Hollywood Park wasn’t bad, the “Casino” sign is tolerable, but imagine Jerry’s megatron TV that close to the runway.

    Just Saying

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