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LAX to open 'safety valve'

The new taxiway is expected to help avert near-collisions on two runways on the airport's south side.

June 24, 2008|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

An $83-million taxiway designed to help solve a critical safety problem at Los Angeles International Airport is scheduled to open today after more than a year of construction.

Airport officials say the centerline taxiway is expected to greatly reduce the risk of collision when airliners cross one of two runways on the south side of LAX.

"This is an immense safety improvement because it eliminates the circumstances that lead to many runway incidents on the south airfield, including some very serious incidents," said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

The project, which marks the completion of $333 million in improvements to the airport's south side, included reconstruction of the southernmost runway to make room for the 1.8-mile-long taxiway.

Los Angeles World Airports, the city's airport agency, spent years trying to persuade residents and the City Council that it needed to rework the south airfield to prevent close calls between aircraft on the ground.

About 80% of such incidents occurred on the south side when pilots landed on the outer runway, turned onto a series of taxiways and stopped too close to the inner runway, where aircraft take off.

Historically, LAX has had one of the highest rates of so-called runway incursions in the nation.

Officials say the project should reduce the number of incursions by acting as a buffer between runways. After landing, pilots will be directed by air traffic controllers to turn onto the taxiway, where they will await clearance to cross the inner runway.

"The center taxiway is like a safety valve," said Jon Russell, a commercial pilot and a regional safety official for the Air Line Pilots Assn. "Pilots can no longer make a straight shot across the airfield. They will have to slow down and make a turn onto the center taxiway. It keeps planes moving and simplifies the controller's job."

With some parts of the taxiway already in operation, the FAA reports that there have been only two runway incursions since the start of the year -- one on the south side and one on the airport's north runways. The incursion on the south side was unrelated to the problem the new center taxiway was designed to fix.

In 2006 and 2007, 16 incursions at LAX were reported, nine of them on the south runways. Six of the nine were caused by the problem the new taxiway addresses, according to the FAA.

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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