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American Airlines' $1.6-billion LAX overhaul is the carrier's costliest airport investment

American Airlines' $1.6-billion LAX overhaul is the carrier's costliest airport investment
An artist's rendering of Terminals 4 and 5 after they are overhauled in a $1.6-billion project funded by American Airlines. The project broke ground Wednesday. It is the biggest airport investment in the history of American Airlines. (American Airlines)

American Airlines has kicked off its $1.6-billion overhaul at Los Angeles International Airport, one of a series of pricey LAX upgrades that will add gates, bigger bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows at the carrier’s terminals.

A groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday attended by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker initiated a 10-year construction project that represents the single largest airport investment in the history of the Fort Worth carrier.

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American Airlines — the world’s biggest carrier — chose LAX for the investment, Parker said, because Los Angeles is an important gateway for international travelers, especially visitors from Asia. Air travel from China has been setting records over the last few years.

“For American, that is what L.A. is: our international gateway and our gateway to Asia,” Parker said, noting that American Airlines is the busiest carrier at LAX, with 200 daily flights to 68 destinations on five continents.

American Airlines’ investment is only the latest from a major carrier at LAX, the world’s fifth-busiest airport. Although jet fuel costs are rising, demand for air travel continues to grow, especially for international trips.

Delta Air Lines, the second-busiest airline at LAX, launched a $1.9-billion upgrade last year to overhaul its facilities at Terminals 2 and 3, a complicated project that required 19 other carriers to relocate.

Southwest Airlines kicked off a $508-million project in 2014 to overhaul and modernize Terminal 1. The project is expected to be completed later this year. .

Crews began work last year on a $1.6-billion midfield passenger terminal at LAX that will add a dozen gates in a facility west of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

In addition to the work underway at the various terminals, construction is expected to begin soon on a $4.9-billion elevated train to finally connect the airport to the region’s mass transit system, allowing fliers to avoid the city’s notoriously congested roads.

All the construction projects combined are sure to create headaches for the approximately 85 million passengers who fly through LAX each year.

“LAX is in the midst of a more than $14-billion transformation,” Garcetti said during the news conference. “We are reimagining the entire airport, every single terminal from the ground up.

“I always say with a caveat: It will get worse before it gets better, but it will get much better.”

As part of American Airlines’ overhaul project, Terminals 4 and 5 will be redesigned as a single 300,000-square-foot hall with bigger bathrooms, more power outlets and large windows that will allow in natural light. The overall area won’t expand much, but American Airlines officials say a reconfigured ticket counter and check-in area will reduce wait times.

Screening lanes will also be upgraded to include 10 “automated screening lanes,” which use multiple conveyor belts to speed the screening process. Terminal 4 currently has nine lanes, including two automated screening lanes.

In 2016, American Airlines completed a bridge beyond the security screening area that connects Terminal 4 and the adjacent Tom Bradley International Terminal.

In the past, most of the investments made by airlines to upgrade LAX terminals have been reimbursed to the carriers in the form of cuts to fees and charges the airlines must pay to operate at the airport, according to airline officials.

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Airlines pay for building rentals, fuel, land rentals and permits, among other things, and such fees can generate as much as two-thirds of all revenues to LAX, according to airport officials.

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