LAX to spend $200 million to meet federal runway safety standards

LAX to spend $200 million to meet federal runway safety standards
Planes land and await departure at Los Angeles International Airport. One of the airport's runways does not meet federal safety rules. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

In a project designed to bring Los Angeles International Airport into compliance with federal safety standards, officials will spend about $200 million to expand and refurbish runway-buffer zones.

The plan calls for enhancing safety areas at the ends and sides of all four runways serving the nation's third-busiest airport. The flat, graded expanses provide aircraft with a critical buffer should they undershoot, overrun or veer off a runway.


Twenty-year-old federal rules require commercial airports to have safety areas measuring 500 feet by 1,000 feet at the ends of runways. LAX has one runway that does not meet that standard, while the other runways' safety zones require renovation.

Like some other airports built prior to the federal rules, LAX has not been brought up to standards. It was not practical to install full runway safety areas at facilities without enough available land or those with obstacles such as rugged terrain, roadways or rail lines. Those airports must conform to the standards as much as possible and install alternative safety measures, like arrestor beds of collapsible concrete that can stop or slow runaway planes.

Federal Aviation Administration officials have been working with airports to help them meet the standards by December 2015.

"These are long-awaited improvements," said Roger Johnson, deputy executive director of airport development at Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX. "All airports have to be in compliance by 2015. With all the construction going on at LAX, this is going to be a dance."

Johnson said the safety area for the southernmost runway already meets federal standards, but some grading, drainage improvements and repaving are necessary. The project is scheduled to begin in March.

More extensive construction is planned for the airport's other three runways, including an 832-foot extension at the west end of the inner runway on the airport's south side.

The rest of the work includes grading, storm drain construction, new pavement and changes in airfield markings. In addition, taxiways, service roads, perimeter fencing and LAX's instrument landing system will have to be relocated.

Construction of the runway extension, which is the last of the four projects, is not set to begin until March 2016 — well beyond the federal deadline. Johnson said airport officials were working with the FAA on plans to temporarily shorten the runway to make the buffer areas conform to the requirements on time.

A request for construction bids on the first of four runway projects is scheduled to go out next month.

The enhanced buffer zones are the latest of several improvements at LAX designed to reduce accidents on the airfield, which handled an average of about 1,700 aircraft movements per day last year.

During the mid-2000s, Los Angeles World Airports separated the two southern runways and installed a center taxiway to help reduce runway incursions by planes on the ground.

In 2009, the airport unveiled a $7-million system that monitors the areas at highest risk for collisions with radar and status lights. If the radar detects a potential conflict between planes or an aircraft and a motor vehicle, the lights automatically turn red, alerting pilots to the risk.

Last year, airport officials proposed separating LAX's two northern runways and adding a center taxiway, but community opposition and a lawsuit threaten the project.


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