Congestion Forces Change at L.A. Airport
July 29, 1996
By CHIP JACOBS
Daily News Staff Writer
Only a dozen years old, the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX has already become so congested that it may need a $30 million stopgap expansion to handle mushrooming passenger demand and new jumbo jets, officials have confirmed.
The terminal at Los Angeles International Airport debuted along with other airport improvements just prior to the 1984 Olympic Games here. While it was designed to handle 6.8 million passengers annually, the building was swamped with 10 million people in the past year.
The entire airport — the West Coast’s busiest — is probably in store for a multibillion-dollar overhaul, but it’s a decade away, Department of Airport officials have said. Because of that, and lobbying by several airlines, officials said they have decided to find ways to ease conditions in the near term.
“We recognize it’s going to be six or seven years before anything meaningful will be built, and we can’t afford to wait that long,” said Jack Graham, the department’s planning chief. “Bradley is well over capacity. At certain times, it’s very overcrowded.”
The first-class lounge and other areas, where some passengers bound for international flights wait for their jets, are the most likely renovation candidates at the terminal, Graham said.
The renovation at Bradley, pending various approvals by the City Council and others, could be finished within the next three to five years. The $20 million to $30 million job would be financed both by the airlines and by the passenger facility charge tacked onto airline tickets and collected by the city.
All told, it could mean about 100,000 additional square feet to the million-square-foot building located just west of the towering theme restaurant, Graham said.
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes LAX, said the expansion seems noncontroversial enough because passengers heading out on international flights often have “no place to sit down.”
“What I do have a problem with is that they are so focused on doing things at LAX that we are getting farther and farther behind in developing alternative major airports like Palmdale,” said Galanter, a longtime airport department critic.
“It’s stark, raving nuts.”
Los Angeles officials have long eyed Palmdale, located 50 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, as a key spot to divert large commercial jets headed for LAX. However, environmental issues, the airlines’ disinterest and ambivalence about the desert area by airport brass has stymied those plans.
LAX officials, meanwhile, say that when the $150 million Bradley terminal debuted just prior to the 1984 Games, few could project how popular it would become.
Back then, only two dozen airlines serviced the terminal. Today it’s over 50.
McCoy Associates, the Los Angeles-based architectural firm that designed the Bradley facility, is doing the conceptual study looking at how to proceed with the renovation.
The firm received a $49,000 contract inked by the city’s Department of Airports on July 11 and hopes to wrap up its study in three months, said McCoy Associates president, Robert McCoy.
Led by British Airways and Quantas Airways, the airlines themselves have been lobbying the city for the improvements, Graham and other sources said. In recent years, United Airlines built its own international terminal at LAX and American Airlines is proposing to do so.
Quantas and British Airways officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.
According to preliminary ideas, the renovation would involve widening the area where some travelers bound for foreign destinations wait for special LAX buses to ferry them to their planes.
Larger commercial jets coming on line, including an updated Boeing 747 that can hold 600 people, will be too big to pull up to the terminals’ gates, forcing LAX to rely more on the bus-to-plane system.
How to increase the waiting area where passengers stay between international flights without passing through customs also will be scrutinized because it’s too confining.
The first-class lounge area located just over the place passengers catch the special buses to their planes would be made larger as well.
McCoy said it makes the most sense to renovate all three areas.
“You get backed into the corner of doing everything or nothing because all three areas are stacked on top of each other,” he said. The possible renovation, he said, “has always been on the back burner.”
Overall, LAX could be in for breathtaking growth. In 1994, 51 million passengers passed through its gates. By 2015 it could be nearly double that, planners said.