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LAX runway shift is urged

Times Staff Writer

In a move with potentially major ramifications for the airport-adjacent communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey, officials released studies Friday suggesting that safety issues require further separation of the two runways on LAX’s north side.

The reports drew immediate criticism from three elected officials whose districts include the airport and surrounding communities. Talk of moving the parallel northern runways farther apart has historically angered residents, because such an action could require expanding the airport, which already runs close to Lincoln Boulevard and a bustling commercial center.

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport plan to use the studies -- ordered by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to examine possible safety concerns -- as evidence that the move is necessary.

Several of the analyses recommend that officials shift the outer runway 340 feet north and install a center taxiway to reduce close calls between aircraft and to accommodate larger jets scheduled to arrive soon at LAX.

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The reports also conclude that an earlier proposal -- to move the inner runway closer to the center of the airport -- is not feasible, because it would cost more than pushing out the northernmost runway, take more time and require the demolition of most of terminals 1, 2 and 3.

Built half a century ago for smaller, slower planes, LAX’s north airfield cannot safely handle the number of flights that use it daily, the reports concluded. There is too little space for jumbo jets to maneuver, increasing “the likelihood of a catastrophic aircraft collision,” one of the reports said.

“There’s no question that it’s a safety issue,” said Airport Commission President Alan Rothenberg. “Therefore, we have to do something.”

That something, residents fear, could require removal of what they say is one-third of Westchester’s business district, as well as homes.

Neighbors, who have complained about airport noise and traffic for years as the number of travelers at LAX has grown, have said they do not see a safety case for reworking the north airfield. The new reports aren’t likely to change their minds.

“These studies are biased and skewed, and the recommendations are ludicrous,” Councilman Bill Rosendahl said in a statement. He has called for a study of options that would not involve moving the outer runway.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) agreed that the studies were flawed and did not make a “compelling safety finding.” Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe also expressed disappointment in the reports’ conclusions. Villaraigosa said he “continues to oppose any reconfiguration of the north airfield without clear evidence that such a change is needed to protect public safety.” The mayor also said he plans to recommend that a variety of proposals be studied in an upcoming environmental analysis.

Airport officials noted LAX’s history of close calls between planes on the ground. About one of every four such incidents has occurred on the north side, with the remainder taking place on the south side of the airport.

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Aircraft land on the outer runways and enter a series of taxiways to cross the inner runways, where planes take off. In recent years, LAX has had among the nation’s highest rates of what are known as runway incursions. The city’s airport agency is spending $330 million to move the southernmost runway 55 feet farther south and to install a center taxiway, which will run parallel between the two runways, where aircraft will turn after landing to await instructions from controllers.

Officials also contend that the north airfield must be reworked to accommodate larger aircraft. When Airbus landed its mammoth new A380 at LAX on a test flight earlier this year, controllers were forced to delay arrivals and departures throughout the entire airport for 15 minutes while the jet taxied to a cargo complex.

In addition, the north airfield cannot handle today’s large jets, whose tails jut into runway safety zones when the planes are sitting on taxiways between the runways, forcing controllers to close the outer runway, the studies found.

The city’s airport agency had hoped the studies would break a logjam between officials and residents on how to rework the airfield. Some residents have suggested moving the north runway only 100 feet, an action that pilots and authors of the studies said would not be sufficient.

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Airport officials said a significant north airfield reconfiguration is crucial to stop the migration of lucrative international flights to newer airports.

“This opens up the question what kind of airport do we want,” said the Airport Commission’s Rothenberg. “If we do nothing, we abandon the opportunity to San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas.”

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jennifer.oldham@latimes.com

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5 studies released

The city’s airport agency released five studies Friday, which total 180 pages and cost about $300,000, that it says prove officials must further separate the two parallel runways on Los Angeles International Airport’s north side. The studies can be found at www.laxmasterplan.org/technicalStudies.cfm.

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* A “Safety Risk Assessment,” by the Washington Consulting Group Inc.

* “LAX North Airfield Special Peer Review,” by 13 airport managers and aviation consultants

* “Analysis of LAX North Airfield Alternatives,” by International Aviation Management Group Inc.

* “North Airfield Assessment,” by URS Corp.

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* “Tomorrow is Now,” by the Air Line Pilots Assn. (This presentation was not commissioned, or paid for, by airport officials and was completed independently by pilots.)

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes the airport and some neighboring communities, will host a discussion of the reports at a community meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Westchester Senior Citizen Center, 8740 Lincoln Blvd.

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Los Angeles Times

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