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$1 billion expansion of LAX expected to win approval today

October 19, 2009 |  7:27 am

Rendering600

Although the airline industry remains in a deep slump, airport commissioners today are expected to approve $1.13 billion in construction contracts to revitalize facilities for international travelers at Los Angeles International Airport and build new gates to accommodate the next generation of large commercial planes.

In one of the most visible signs that the modernization of LAX is underway, the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners is set to award two contracts to the Walsh Austin Joint Venture, which will handle the reconfiguration of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

“The Bradley is the centerpiece of the current modernization program,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX. “The project will change how the airport looks to passengers and how international passengers arrive and depart. We are completely redoing the front door.”

Airport officials plan to add a million square feet of space to the terminal to make room for ticket counters, security checkpoints and passenger lounges, as well as expanded customs-and-immigration facilities. Restaurants and retail stores will occupy a grand central hall.

The so-called “Bradley West” project also calls for nine new gates that will handle the latest in large commercial airliners, such the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the giant Airbus A380, which can carry more than 800 passengers depending on the seating arrangement.

Two of the gates are scheduled to open by January 2012. The overall project is expected to be completed by mid-2013.

Except for the current remodeling of the terminal’s interior, it has not had any major improvements since the 1984 Summer Olympics. The aging facility often receives poor to average marks from passengers and airlines.

Airport officials are proceeding with the Bradley project despite a severe national recession and the worst economic downturn in the history of the airline industry, which has led to the cancellation and postponement of orders for aircraft, including the new wide-body designs. As a result, major airports around the country have been postponing expensive improvement projects.

The latest forecasts by the Boyd Group, an aviation research and consulting firm in Colorado, predict that the number of passengers at LAX will decline from about 59 million in 2008 to about 55 million by the end of this year. The volume is expected to dip to 51 million in 2011 and recover somewhat by 2014. The passenger volume at LAX peaked at about 68 million in 2000.

Despite the economy, Lindsey said she is optimistic that the airport will be able to finance the project by selling bonds to investors in the months ahead. To cover the debt payments, she said, the airport must carefully manage its operations to save money, increase revenue from concessions and parking, push Congress to increase the passenger-facilities fee and gradually raise fees and rents for the airlines.

— Dan Weikel

Illustration: Architectural rendering of the Bradley West Concourse. Credit: Fentress Associates / Los Angeles World Airports

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