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Runway Rebuilding at LAX Expected to Bring Travel Delays : Officials Cite 25% Less Capacity

December 08, 1987|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Reconstruction of one of the four runways at Los Angeles International Airport will result in travel delays and probably will force the reassignment of some flights to less convenient hours, aviation officials said Monday.

"They can rearrange schedules, cut back schedules, use alternate airports," said Leslie Rowland, a spokeswoman for the airline industry's Air Transport Assn. "But when you reduce your capacity by 25%, you're going to have delays. There's no way around it."

Resolving the difficulties created by the four-to-six-month construction project has been complicated by the attempt of one carrier--American Airlines--to reinstitute government assignment of the available takeoff and landing slots at LAX.

Flight scheduling at LAX, and most other airports, now is worked out among the airlines, without government involvement.

"The problem is that when you begin assigning numbers, there will be some winners and some losers," said Arlene Feldman, deputy director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Western Pacific Region.

American said it thinks government assignment is the best way to determine which carriers will get the best of the available take off and landing slots.

But Rowland said some of the other carriers see American's request as an unwelcome move back toward the governmental regulation of the industry that was abandoned by the Reagan Administration.

Other airlines contacted about the request said they did not have enough specific information about the petition to comment on it.

The runway reconstruction controversy is emerging less than a week after attention focused on LAX for a different reason--four aviation safety mishaps at or near the airport in a single evening.

In the most serious of the four, two jetliners on approach to parallel runways at LAX missed each other by only 10 to 30 feet last Thursday when the pilot of a Mexicana Airlines plane failed to heed an air traffic controller's order to make a course correction.

The other incidents that evening included a near-collision by two passenger liners on a runway, a smashup between two planes on the ground and a reported lapse by an air traffic controller that permitted a helicopter and a plane to pass dangerously close to one another.

As a result of these and other incidents, the National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched two specialists in human performance and air traffic control from its Washington headquarters to a field office in Los Angeles in an effort to determine what went wrong.

Officials stressed, however, that there appeared to be no correlation between the recent safety mishaps and the deterioration of Runway 24 Left.

The Los Angeles Department of Airports scheduled bidding today on what is expected to be the runway project, which is expected to cost about $13 million.

Tom Winfrey, a spokesman for the Department of Airports, said the runway, built in 1958, is simply nearing the end of its designed life span.

He said cracks have begun to appear in the pavement and chunks have been loosened by the immense weight of some of the jetliners that use it. A fully laden Boeing 747 jumbo jet, for example, can weigh as much as 830,000 pounds.

Rather than patch the runway piecemeal, engineers decided to rebuild the entire, 10,285-foot strip. The existing asphaltic concrete pavement, which varies in thickness from 9 to 18 inches, will be dug up and crumbled for use as an aggregate base. The strip will then be repaved to the original thickness.

Last month--a few weeks after the Department of Airports began meeting with the FAA and representatives of the airlines to discuss plans on how to minimize air traffic disruptions during the construction--American Airlines filed the "slotting" petition with the FAA and its parent organization, the federal Department of Transportation. To avoid the appearance of improper collusion between competitors, airlines must receive the permission of the transportation department before they can get together to talk about scheduling.

The transportation department has tentatively scheduled a meeting between the FAA and the carriers next week to discuss the possibility of authorizing the FAA to assign time slots to the individual carriers at LAX during the runway reconstruction work.

Four airports now operating at capacity--Chicago's O'Hare, New York's La Guardia, Washington's National and New York's Kennedy--now employ federally assigned slotting that puts a ceiling on the number of flights that can take off and land during peak traffic periods.

Even with slotting, most government officials interviewed by The Times said they expect some delays at LAX.

"But I don't envision any terrible situation," Feldman said. "It'll be like during the Olympics. We handled that well. We'll handle this well."

Jacqueline Smith, manager of the FAA's regional air traffic division here, said most of the delays probably will involve arrivals, rather than departures, with planes slowed up en route or held on the ground at departure airports as traffic begins building up at LAX.

Smith said it is easier--and more economical--to hold planes at the departure gate than to slow them en route. She said this means that planes already in the air from distant locations such as New York and the Orient are less likely to be delayed than planes from regional airports such as Sacramento and San Jose.

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