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LAX Flight Path museum finds itself up for possible relocation

Flight Path officials say the Proud Bird property is unsuitable for their museum
Flight Path officials say they were never consulted by airport officials about moving
Artifacts from Pan Am, TWA, Braniff and other famous defunct airlines

As they seek to resolve the fate of the aviation-themed Proud Bird restaurant, Los Angeles airport officials are raising the ire of supporters of another LAX institution: the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum, visited by thousands of people annually.

Los Angeles World Airports is formally seeking proposals for development of the Proud Bird site on Aviation Boulevard, a popular gathering spot noted for its aviation memorabilia and aircraft displays.

Airport officials say the proposals, due in September, can include plans to move the Flight Path center to the Proud Bird parcel from its site at a former charter airline terminal on the southern edge of the LAX complex. If the winning bidder includes moving the museum in its plans, the winner would be eligible to to extend an 11-year lease by an additional 10 years.

Flight Path officials say that the Proud Bird property is unsuitable for the museum and that they were never consulted by airport officials about moving. .

"The request for proposals does a great disservice to all by proposing that Flight Path be used merely as a bargaining chip in a real estate transaction," Nancy Niles, Flight Path board president, wrote in a recent letter to Gina Marie Lindsey, the airport agency's executive director.

Since Flight Path opened in 2003 with the help of $100,000 from Los Angeles World Airports, its aviation museum, aerospace library and education center have attracted more than 100,000 visitors, many of them schoolchildren on field trips. It has served as a venue for social events, airport conferences, lectures and airline announcements of new service or their latest aircraft.

On display are artifacts from the defunct Pan Am, TWA, Braniff and other famous airlines. An old Douglas DC-3, once a mainstay of air travel, is parked on the tarmac outside. There is a display of flight attendant uniforms dating to the early days of commercial aviation, and a corner of the museum is dedicated to the Flying Tigers, the American volunteer group that fought in China during World War II.

Flight Path officials say the center was established to preserve offerings of LAX's community relations program that couldn't be accommodated in the central terminal area. A primary attraction is the center's location off the southernmost runway, giving visitors a front row view of aircraft operations.

"It is a unique facility that is preserving the very rich history of commercial aviation not only at LAX and the region, but nationally," said Alan Wayne, a retired United Airlines executive and former Flight Path board member. "To lose that would be a very sad development. Its location is unmatched at any other airport."

In her letter to Lindsey, Niles said the Proud Bird site is not comparable to the museum's current location.

Nancy Castles, an airport spokeswoman, said Los Angeles World Airports is interested in combining its historical and museum functions on the Proud Bird property, which it owns. Proposers are under no obligation to submit a plan for the Flight Path center.

Castles declined to comment on Niles' letter, except to say that airport officials received it.

The museum controversy adds to the current uncertainty surrounding some of LAX's longtime public attractions.

The Proud Bird, once the aerospace industry's premier hangout, was threatened with closure last year. Airport officials eventually agreed to a month-to-month lease for a year to keep it open.

That arrangement expires in January. The restaurant's operators say they are preparing a proposal for Los Angeles World Airports.

Elsewhere, the iconic Theme Building, the recently upgraded jet-age structure supported by parabolic arches in the middle of LAX, has been closed for months and its future is unclear. A contract with Westfield Concession Management to develop a new use for the building has been canceled.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

Follow LADeadline16 for aviation news.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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