A controversial plan to separate the two northern runways at Los Angeles International Airport by 260 feet advanced last week when airport staff recommended the proposal for further environmental review over other runway options.
The recommendation, if approved by L.A.'s Board of Airport Commissioners, could set the stage for more battles over the modernization of LAX, which has been delayed for decades by lawsuits, community opposition and the changing visions of mayoral administrations.
Runway separation that would give large airplanes more room to take off and land is adamantly opposed by residents of nearby Westchester and the cities of Inglewood, Culver City and distant Ontario, in San Bernardino County. The latter is seeking to take over L.A./Ontario International Airport from Los Angeles.
The opponents assert that the plan could have adverse effects on air and noise pollution and undermine an effort mandated by a 2006 court settlement to spread the growth of commercial air traffic to other airports in the region and prevent congestion at LAX.
Should it go forward, the proposal also might figure in the city's mayoral campaign. Employing a tactic airport critics have used before, Denny Schneider, of A Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, said his group plans to ask candidates to sign a pledge stating that they oppose LAX expansion and favor regionalizing air traffic.
Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX and Ontario International, has been evaluating nine alternatives for the LAX north runway complex and transportation options that could link light rail service to LAX. It is part of a multibillion-dollar effort to modernize the nation's third-largest airport.
Along with the 260-foot separation, airport staff is recommending for final review a combination of two options that include terminal additions, upgrades to existing passenger facilities and a transportation center, as well as parking areas and a car rental facility in nearby Manchester Square. Also proposed is a people mover in the terminal area and links to a light rail station at Aviation and Century boulevards.
The recommendation will be presented at the airport commission meeting Monday, but commissioners will not vote on it at that time. Airport officials said they would not comment until after the meeting.
"There are some exciting projects that are part of the preferred alternative, including an automated people mover and a possible extension of the Green [light rail] Line directly into the central terminal area," said City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the airport area and opposes expanding LAX.
"As for the proposal to reconfigure the north runway," Rosendahl said, "we need to hear from the public before moving forward on any decision."
The separation plan is supported by the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the Coalition to Fix LAX Now, a group of powerful business and labor leaders who consider the proposal a critical part of the airport's modernization.
Supporters contend that separating the north runways and adding a taxiway between them would improve safety and the handling of the largest passenger planes, such as the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and stretch versions of the Boeing 747.
On the other side are community groups that contend the safety improvements would be marginal and that the largest jetliners can be adequately handled by existing facilities.
"We are not looking at this regionally," said Craig Eggers, chairman of the airport relations committee of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester Playa. "Why are we trying to squeeze more air traffic into LAX when we have Ontario International with lots of unused capacity?"