In the battle over Los Angeles International Airport, backers and opponents of expansion agree on a crucial point: Southern California needs a regionwide plan to meet a soaring demand for passenger and cargo service. Where they disagree is whether modernizing LAX should be part of that plan. It's up to newly elected Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn to make the case for both a regional strategy and an updated LAX.
In 1997, 81 million passengers a year flew in and out of the region's airports, about 60 million of them through LAX. The number of passengers traveling through Southern California is projected to almost double in the next 20 years. Unless we do something to increase capacity, our airports are going to be more congested than our freeways.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 28, 2001 Home Edition California Part B Page 18 Metro Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction; Editorial
Regional airports: An editorial Monday should have stated that Ontario International Airport is in San Bernardino County.
Southern California has abundant airports, including former military bases, to form a regional system. Getting the deregulated airline industry to use them, however, is another matter. The airlines say customer demand is not high enough to profitably increase services to Los Angeles-owned Ontario International Airport in Riverside County or to begin service to Palmdale in northern L.A. County. So anti-expansion neighbors of LAX have formed a coalition with outlying communities that covet airport business. Their strategy: Block expansion. Make LAX so unbearably gridlocked that airlines will be forced to go elsewhere.
There has to be a better way.
The anti-expansion coalition took its campaign to Washington, D.C., last week, meeting privately with U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey. Getting federal officials involved in a regional airport strategy is crucial because only the FAA has the clout to bring the airlines to the bargaining table. Mineta offered to help develop a plan. But it's hard to believe he would actively oppose LAX expansion, given his charge to increase airport capacity across the country to combat ever-growing delays.
Hahn and the airport commissioners he appointed Friday can encourage airlines to use the city's other airports. They can, for example, repeal the ridiculous 59% increase in landing fees the outgoing commission just imposed at Ontario.
Some LAX opponents will never bend. But other members of the coalition may drop their opposition to upgrading LAX if a better way can be found to make a regional system fly. And leadership from the mayor of the region's largest city is critical to that effort.
But if former Mayor Richard Riordan too single-mindedly pursued LAX expansion, leaving expansion opponents to assume regional leadership, Hahn shouldn't make the mistake of wholeheartedly signing on to the anti-expansion agenda. He can't lose sight of the fact that LAX needs to be modernized and moderately expanded, both for safety's sake and to help a healthy regional airport system meet soaring passenger and cargo demands.