The City of Los Angeles announced last week that it has come to an agreement with the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC) that will create peace at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Yesterday, the city council unanimously approved it, so it’s time to see what this really means. There’s a lot in the agreement (which you can read in detail here), but overall, it should allow LAX to meaningfully add gates without giving up all that much.
ARSAC has been a thorn in the side of LAX for 20 years. In 2006, ARSAC and some surrounding communities won a big victory when then-Mayor Villaraigosa agreed to a settlement that required a decrease of 10 gates to a cap of 153 at the airport. ARSAC just had to agree to stop suing over improvements to the south runway complex and not much more than that. This was not a good deal.
But now we have a new agreement, and it’s framed around the same basic idea of stopping ARSAC from suing over everything. While it doesn’t settle with some of the surrounding communities, it sets a template for them to follow. If they don’t, well, the gate cap goes away for them soon enough. They have incentive to negotiate.
This agreement appears to be better for LAX by far, if I’m reading it correctly. I asked LAX to confirm my interpretation two days ago, was told a response was coming, and still haven’t received one. So, here’s how I see it.
There is some piddly stuff in here. For example, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has to pay ARSAC $400,000, it has to agree to send a couple of ARSAC representatives to a couple of conferences every year (seriously), it has to build a park on the north side of the airport (which we can only hope will have a view), and it has to install a new air quality monitoring station. This also includes ARSAC agreeing to stop suing over a variety of projects including the entire landside project. But what this deal really comes down to that matters is two things: runways and gates.
On the north side, LAX has two parallel runways. As it did a couple years ago on the south side, LAX wanted to push the northernmost runway further out so it could then build a taxiway in between the two runways. That promotes increased safety and better aircraft movement. This would also help LAX to better handle the biggest aircraft (read: A380). Today, those airplanes basically make the north side come to a halt because of how big they are.
ARSAC hated this plan since it would push the airport operation closer to the wealthy Westchester neighborhood. And as part of this deal, the city has agreed to stop pursuing movement of that northern runway. Instead, it is going to push hard on an interim plan with the horrible acronym of I-NASIP. In short, it’ll look something like this.
The biggest safety issue today involves those red lines between the runways. Those are taxiways Y and Z and they are too close to the middle of the runway to be considered safe. The problem is when an airplane lands on 24R and takes the high-speed turn-off, there is a big potential issue with runway incursions on to 24L where aircraft are usually departing. The location of the high-speed turn-offs means that the arriving airplane could go right into the path of a departing airplane at a critical point. (This works in reverse as well when aircraft are landing from the west.)
So what the airport wants to do is now move those to be further down the runway on each side. That means that when the aircraft takes the turn-off, it’ll be going slower, and if it does go on to the departing runway, most aircraft will be airborne already so the risk for disaster is much lower. It’s not as safe as a center taxiway, but it should be a marked improvement.
On top of that, LAWA wants taxiway D to be extended further west to give more taxiing capacity. D and E would also be upgraded next to the terminals. And D would be extended and connected at the far east end, possibly creating a new penalty box where aircraft can sit if needed. There will also be a host of new markings and lighting systems to improve safety.
ARSAC promises not to sue over this plan (in fact, it likes this plan a lot), and LAWA promises to pursue it vigorously. Once all the approvals for I-NASIP roll in, LAWA will do all it can to make the changes within 3 years. Then it will operate and monitor safety for 3 years after that to make sure all is working fine. There is a carve-out, however. If the FAA requires center taxiways to be created nationwide, then LAX can comply. In other words, if it’s not safe and the FAA says so, then LAX can still push forward on moving the north runway.
This sounds like a relatively minor giveback, particularly since there isn’t likely to be much growth of A380 traffic at LAX (or anywhere) in the future. Rather, it’s likely we’ll see fewer A380s (starting with Singapore’s switch to a 777 this fall). But what does LAWA get in return? Ah, a lot.
The ill-advised 2006 agreement has capped LAX at 153 gates since 2015 (when the reduction from 163 had to be completed). But LAX is a growing airport and it desperately needs more gates.
ARSAC likes to challenge any move by the airport, and that slows things down forever, but now it’s going to stop playing those games when it comes to gates. Of the 153 gates, 18 are way at the west end and are remote gates that are inefficient and despised.
ARSAC will no longer challenge an effort to move those gates into the central terminal area. Where? Well it could be in any of these places. (Note that the green one is already approved and separate.)
That’s right, it could be in the final build-out of the Midfield concourse (the first half of which is underway), but it could also be in a new Terminal 0 (which Southwest will want and need) or in a new Terminal 9 on the south side. It will also allow the 10 Eagle gates to be relocated back into the central terminal area in one of those locations as well. I can envision a layout with Southwest (and maybe some ULCCs or future partners) in T0/1, Delta and friends in T2/3 connected to Bradley, American in T4/5 connected to Bradley, Alaska/Virgin America in T6, United in T7/8, and the cats and dogs (JetBlue/Hawaiian and ULCCs) in T9. There are real opportunities here to make for a vastly improved operation.
As part of this, the previous gate cap that was to expire by the end of 2020 (but lawsuits undoubtedly would have kept it alive for years) will be extended until the end of 2024 unless the long remote gate relocation process is kicked off. When that happens, then the gate cap disappears, so that means this should allow for more than just relocating the 18 remote gates. Once that happens, a different set of rules goes into effect until 2030. Basically, no existing terminals can be expanded and no gates can be developed outside the terminal area sketched out above. But that’s not a problem. There’s plenty of room for growth in new terminals within that part of the airport.
I suppose it’s possible I’m misreading parts of this document, but it seems to give LAX a great deal of flexibility with gates going forward without giving up all that much on the runway side of things, and that’s hugely important.