America’s second busiest airport LAX plans $5bn expansion

UPDATE (22 DEC): Added additional details on LAX’s long-term master plan, including a linear terminal that would replace terminals one through three.

The on-going reinvention of Los Angeles International airport (LAX) will move into its next phase in 2015, with initial works beginning on $5.25 billion in further improvements to the southern California aviation hub.

A $4 billion automated people mover and the up to $1.25 billion north midfield satellite concourse were approved at a meeting of the airport’s governing board on 18 November. While both have been under development for years, the official approvals for both is a big step forward for the chronically congested LAX.

The people mover, or LAX Train, will include three stations in the central terminal area and three outside east of the terminals at a new intermodal transportation facility, a new station on the Los Angeles light rail system and a new consolidated rental car facility. The central terminal area consists of the horseshoe of buildings around the famous LAX theme building that includes terminals one through seven as well as the Tom Bradley International terminal.

Preferred alignment for the people mover at LAX. (Source: LAWA)

Preferred alignment for the people mover at LAX. (Source: LAWA)

Airport operator Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) will make the new people mover free to users in the hopes that it will reduce traffic congestion in and around the airport.

The automated people mover than opened at Oakland International airport in November. (Source: Author)

The automated people mover that opened at Oakland International airport in November. (Source: Author)

The midfield concourse is the first step in increasing airside capacity at LAX. Roger Johnson, deputy executive director of airport development group at LAWA, told Flightglobal this past January that it provides them with the “flexibility” to address the various capacity and operations constraints at the airport.

Site plan for the midfield satellite concourse. (Source: LAWA)

Site plan for the midfield satellite concourse. (Source: LAWA)

The 74,322 square metre (800,000 square foot) concourse will have 11 contact gates capable of handling up to Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 sized aircraft when it opens in 2020. A roughly 396m underground tunnel will connect it to the Tom Bradley terminal.

LAWA plans to demolish and rebuild terminal three once the midfield concourse, which will handle both domestic and international flights, opens, said Johnson. Potential long-term plans could also include a new terminal zero east of terminal one, a connector dubbed “terminal 1.5” between terminals one and two, removing one of the five domestic piers on the south side of the central terminal area and even adding a terminal eight on the east side of Sepulveda Boulevard, he added.


The potential future “terminal zero” is visible on the right side of this image of the people mover alignment in the central terminal area at LAX. (Source: LAWA)

“The Midfield [concourse] is pretty integral in addressing our constraints,” said Johnson.

The master plan for LAX includes an 18-gate southern expansion of the midfield concourse and a new “central terminal processor” in the middle of the central terminal area, the draft environmental statement for the satellite from March 2014 shows. It also shows a potential linear terminal replacing terminals one, two and three at the airport.

Long-term master plan for LAX, including a linear terminal where terminals one through three exist today. (Source: LAWA)

Long-term master plan for LAX, including a linear terminal where terminals one through three exist today. (Source: LAWA)

LAWA tells Airline Business that the linear terminal is in the long-range master plan for LAX but adds that no design work has begun – in other words, the plan is far from set in concrete.

The improvements are very much needed as LAX is on-track to overtake Chicago O’Hare as the second busiest airport in the USA. The airport was third busiest by just a few 100,000 passengers in 2013 but is already ahead this year, with traffic up 6.3% to 59.4 million at LAX compared to a 4.4% to 58.8 million at O’Hare year-to-date in October, data from each airport shows.

Both domestic and international passenger numbers are rising at LAX, with international traffic rising faster than domestic. This international growth could speed up as American Airlines evaluates how to make the airport its primary gateway to Asia.

LAX is already in the midst of more than $3 billion in upgrades. A $1.9 billion rebuilding of the Tom Bradley terminal is scheduled to wrap up in 2015 and more than $1.5 billion in airline-led terminal renovation projects are currently under way.

Don’t hold your breath to ride the people mover or use the midfield concourse. Construction on the people mover is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2017, with local outlets reporting that it will open in 2024, and construction of the midfield concourse beginning the same year with opening scheduled for 2020.

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