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Major modernization contracts for LAX approved

October 19, 2009 |  5:56 pm

Rendering600

More than $1.1 billion in construction contracts to renovate facilities at Los Angeles International Airport were approved today by L.A.'s airport commission.

The plan, a major step in the modernization of LAX, also calls for building new gates to accommodate the next generation of large commercial planes.

The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners awarded two contracts to the Walsh Austin Joint Venture, which will reconfigure the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

“This action is a tremendous step forward in the modernization of LAX,” said commissioner Walt Zifkin. “Nothing has really happened since 1984. Hopefully, it won’t take this long to do the next modernization project.”

The Bradley terminal “is the centerpiece of the current modernization program,” Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said in an earlier interview. “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 1 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

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

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