Question: I have had some significant flight delays into and out of LAX over the last few months that have been attributed by airline personnel and air traffic control to runway construction. Can you provide any info on this issue and how long it will last?
Answer: The second part of the question is easier to answer, so let’s go there first. How long will runway construction last? Forever.
That’s the take from Capt. Eric Auxier, who flies for a U.S. airline and likens airport construction to road work.
“You’re always going to run into X% of runway construction,” said Auxier, who is also a columnist for Airwaynews.com and writes an aviation blog at CapnAux.com. It’s the nature of the beast.
LAX is one of nearly six dozen airports where construction is expected and could affect airport operations, the Federal Aviation Administration’s notices show.
Like many airports, LAX is working on something called Runway Safety Areas, or RSAs. The FAA describes those areas this way: They provide “an unobstructed, cleared, graded area in the event that an aircraft overruns, undershoots or veers off the side of the runway.”
The airport’s four runways have been scheduled to be improved, one by one, to comply with those federal safety standards. The good news: Work on one runway is done, and work on a second is expected to be completed this month.
Soon after that completion, work is expected to begin on two longer-haul projects: The third runway starts its face-lift in November and work continues until October 2016, and the last runway gets its makeover from October 2016 to June 2017.
“The phased closures, which began March 2015, are expected to … cause flight delays similar to those experienced during inclement weather at LAX,” the airport said in a statement.
Indeed, a look at Bureau of Transportation stats shows slightly fewer on-time arrivals and departures in March and July this year, just as work on the first two runways was getting started.
But construction may not be the only or even the main culprit in any of the lagging indicators.
“There are so many things that go into delays that are completely outside an airport’s control,” said Gregory Walden, senior counsel at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and formerly chief counsel for the FAA.
Factors that may affect those stats: weather, mechanical problems with the aircraft, even personnel issues.
Remember too that LAX isn’t the only airport that’s working on complying with the feds’ request.
And, Walden reminded me, this doesn’t mean runways are unsafe. Indeed, the FAA says that improvements have “accounted for nine aircraft saves affecting 240 people.”
Or, said another way, an equal number of successful takeoffs and landings is always a good thing.
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