Los Angeles previews airport terminal upgrades

By Danny King
LAX terminal renderingLOS ANGELES — City officials late last month previewed portions of Los Angeles Airport’s upgraded Tom Bradley International Terminal and said its first phase of improvements would be completed by the end of the year.

The terminal, originally constructed just prior to the city’s 1984 Summer Olympics, will double in size, to about 1.2 million square feet, and will boost passenger capacity by more than 60%, to 4,500 passengers per hour.

Most notably, upon completion of its first phase of upgrades, half the terminal’s 18 gates will be able to accommodate superjumbo aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8 by adding double-deck jetways.

In fact, one gate will provide three jetways for the A380: one for the upper level, two for the lower.

Other touches include a 150,000-square-foot Great Hall, complete with a 110-foot-tall aluminum roof that’s shaped like a group of waves. The terminal will have more than 30 dining options.

Fentress Architects, whose work includes Denver Airport and South Korea’s Incheon Airport, designed the new terminal, while shopping-mall operator Westfield is overseeing food, retail and concessions operations.

The new terminal is likely to accelerate growth at the airport, which is already outpacing U.S. air-traffic growth as more people travel between the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region.

Last year, LAX, the third-busiest U.S. airport behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare, boosted its number of enplaned passengers by 2.6%, to 31.3 million, according to the Department of Transportation.

The number of overall U.S. air passengers across all airports rose 1.3%, to 815.3 million.

Still, the improvements have been a long time coming. When they were announced in 2009, the year before the project broke ground, the work was budgeted at about $1.3 billion, with the gates set for completion by 2012. Since then, the budget has grown to about $1.9 billion.

Air-traffic growth at San Francisco Airport appears to support such an investment for LAX. SFO’s international terminal, which was built in 2000 and includes four two-level gates to accommodate the A380, started its first regular A380 service in May 2011 with Lufthansa’s San Francisco-Frankfurt route.

Last year, SFO boosted its passenger-enplaning count by 6.1%, the fastest growth rate of the 10 busiest U.S. airports, to 21.3 million.

Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing, said that while San Francisco is dominated by Star Alliance members such as United, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, the LAX improvements could have a far broader effect because of the substantial presence of Oneworld and SkyTeam carriers as well as Star Alliance airlines.

Recent announcements would appear to support that theory. In May, British Airways, a Oneworld member, said it would debut its A380 LAX-London Heathrow service in October. And last month, Emirates Airlines said it would start its A380 LAX-Dubai service in December.

As a result of the improvements, Harteveldt said, “By the time you have six to eight A380s on the ground, the place shouldn’t feel like Times Square at New Year’s Eve.”

He added that additional intra-terminal design improvements will be necessary to handle the additional international air traffic.

“L.A. is such an enormous market, and they were wise to build the terminal to accommodate these new planes,” he said.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.
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