Details on LAX’s Agreement to Add Gates and Make Peace With the Community

LAX - Los Angeles

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.

LAX North Runway Plan

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.)

LAX Gate Expansion

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.

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13 comments on “Details on LAX’s Agreement to Add Gates and Make Peace With the Community

  1. ARSAC sounds like they just want to hold LAX hostage to get things for themselves. Isn’t Westchester Park and Golf Course still there, they don’t need another park then. The state/county should use eminent domain and take away Westchester all the way to Manchester Ave and use if for the airport. That would teach them a lesson and improve LAX.

    1. “Should” and “can” are two different words entirely. The only way to properly fix the problems at LAX would be to find a nice roomy spot about halfway to Las Vegas and start from scratch, which doesn’t have much chance of happening. I’m sure you;re already aware that what you’re proposing would keep two flocks of attorneys employed at least until 2030, and likely far beyond. The only way fights like this get settled is when one side runs out of money.

    2. In fantasyland, sure, that’d be great. I’d love to see it.

      Political reality, however, ensures that the chance of that happening is somewhere south of zero.

  2. “The state/county should use eminent domain and take away Westchester all the way to Manchester Ave and use if for the airport. That would teach them a lesson and improve LAX.”

    I live in that area. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that many, many residents in Westchester and Playa del Rey work at the airport or use it to travel frequently. There’s pretty widespread recognition throughout the community that the airport makes the area more vibrant, and very few people are militantly anti-LAX (sadly the militant ones are the one who dominate the dialogue.) But the north runway plan really rankled a lot of people – it was going to require extensive reconfiguration of area streets (including Lincoln Boulevard), tear down a number of businesses on Sepulveda (including the beloved In N Out), and just generally make everything more unpleasant for a very marginal improvement in airfield capacity.

    Moreover, back in the 1970s, the airport condemned literally thousands of houses, businesses and schools. Half of Playa del Rey and a third of Westchester vanished in the space of a decade. LAWA really, really didn’t handle the condemnations well – they would arbitrarily move the condemnation lines year by year, so people who thought they were safe would suddenly be told they weren’t. Houses were bought for half their market value and residents given only a few days to vacate. Schools were closed (in the case of now-demolished Airport Junior High, with only a month’s notice), and kids forced to transfer in the middle of the school year. The whole thing was done in the name of expanding the airport, but the expansion never happened, and instead the condemned areas were labeled “noise abatement zones” and basically left to rot.

    Many residents in Westchester were around in those days, and remember them well. They don’t trust LAWA any further than they can throw them.

  3. The community needs to be wary of the FAA forcing a new center taxiway as they are on record I believe in saying it is needed. I suspect that was a “wink wink” deal with LAWA to support their runway move efforts. It’s unfortunate that Mayor Garcetti who campaigned on a “no runway move” platform did nothing once he took office, except to back this agreement which does not expressly prohibit a runway move.

    Also – any terminal expansion on the North side to the East of Terminal One would have to deal with the Park One (?) lot there, which is another strange thing. LAWA bought that property a few years ago and then promptly leased it back for 20+ years to the parking lot operator, presumably putting it off limits.

    And of course the biggest problem at LAX has gone totally unimproved – the massive automobile traffic jams that are occurring every day

    jack keady

    1. jack – I don’t read this the same way at all.

      1) FAA forcing a new center taxiway. This is pretty specific about how this would work. They can build a new center taxiway only if the FAA has a formal finding requiring immediate action, if the FAA sets new minimum standards that must be complied with nationwide, or if the FAA thinks this new I-NASIP plan would make things worse or not be feasible. Those are all highly unlikely. I’d say that Mayor Garcetti has certainly lived up to not moving the runway. It’s just not that important for LAX in the scheme of things and it’s a good trade.

      2) Park ‘n Fly/Park One – I have no doubt it will be easy to buy out the lease for gate space if they want to build the terminal there. The clean-up from its previous uses may be the bigger challenge, but it’s not certainly putting anything off limits.

      3) Traffic jams – Not true! The landside project is also a part of this. That will take a ton of shuttle buses off the road with the new train to the car rental facility. It will also remove the need for all airport shuttle buses. People will be able to take public transit so that will take a lot of people out of the roadway. And there will be road access configurations.

      I definitely see this in a different light.

  4. LAWA basically gets 28 gates to be put in the CTA in exchange for not pushing forward the north center-line taxiway. Objections to landside project dropped. For $400,000.00 and a park. That by itself is a win for LAX.

    Put 10 gates each in MSC south and T9, and 8 in T0. Realign the layout like CF described. Sit back and wait for the FAA to order the center-line taxiway and get the other win. It looks like ARSAC was only looking short (stop the runway move), while LAWA saw the whole picture.

  5. What about all the plane traffic and noise on the south side of LAX. El Segundo is so close to the runway now you can practically wave to the pilots and go deaf. All they have to do is make a berm or hill 50-75ft high with trees on it and noise would drastically improve, along with improvements in site and everything else.

  6. Wasn’t there once a plan to separate the runways by moving 24L/6R south, and reconfiguring the northern terminals? Why did that plan disappear, and is there a chance that it might resurface?

    1. Ron – Ah yes, the old master plan was to build a new terminal closer to the roadway and move the runways down. That’s dead.

  7. You got the whole picture Richard!
    “LAWA basically gets 28 gates to be put in the CTA in exchange for not pushing forward the north center-line taxiway. Objections to landside project dropped. For $400,000.00 and a park. That by itself is a win for LAX.

    Put 10 gates each in MSC south and T9, and 8 in T0. Realign the layout like CF described. Sit back and wait for the FAA to order the center-line taxiway and get the other win. It looks like ARSAC was only looking short (stop the runway move), while LAWA saw the whole picture.”

    Also, LAWA got ARSAC to agree to removal of 79 million annual passenger cap. Now, LAWA can increase the annual passenger count to whatever, 100 or 120 million! They are certainly preparing for it by adding more gates. The traffic study tells us that there will be traffic gridlock at Century and Sepulveda once passenger count reaches 75 million.

    This is a win for LAWA and also one property owner north of LAX, but not for the community or the City!

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