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Airline trade group urges L.A. mayor to hold down costs of Bradley terminal project

Villaraigosa wants a world-class international terminal, while struggling air carriers that would ultimately pay for the improvements want them to be functional and cost-effective.

February 14, 2009|Dan Weikel

An organization that represents more than 200 international airlines warned Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this week that its members are concerned about the cost and design of improvements planned for the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the centerpiece of the effort to modernize LAX.

In a letter dated Monday, the International Air Transport Assn. strongly urged the mayor to strike a better balance between the desire to build a world-class international terminal and the financial woes of the airline industry, which will continue to face severe economic challenges in the years ahead.

"The IATA and its member airlines are very concerned with the cost of the development and subsequent operation of the Tom Bradley International Terminal project as presently envisaged," wrote Douglas E. Lavin, a regional vice president in the association's North America operation based in Washington, D.C.

Officials for Los Angeles International Airport received the letter but declined to comment. Matt Szabo, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said that the Bradley terminal improvements remain a high priority for Villaraigosa and that airport officials have been collaborating with the airlines to hold down costs.

"The Tom Bradley International Terminal is in serious need of renovation, and anyone who has been there in the last 10 years can tell you that," Szabo said. "The mayor is committed to making a substantial investment to turn the Tom Bradley into a world-class international terminal."

The association represents 230 international carriers that provide about 93% of all global passenger and cargo service. Twenty-nine of those airlines have facilities in the Bradley terminal, where LAX officials hope to make dramatic improvements soon.

Plans call for the addition of 1 million square feet of space; rebuilt concourses; new gates on the terminal's west side to accommodate the next generation of wide-body jets; and a grand central hall with shopping, restaurants and lounges. The project includes a new cross-field taxiway, and planners say the airport's central utility plant may need to be rebuilt.

Airlines are concerned about the project because their landing fees and terminal rents will probably be raised to pay for the improvements.

Though the scope of the work and the cost of the Bradley projects have not been determined yet, airport sources have said the improvements could cost $2 billion to $4 billion.

Though the association supports the Bradley proposals, its officials say they want to make sure the projects improve the movement of passengers and are cost-effective -- a key ingredient given the dramatic downturn in the airline industry.

Association officials say international airlines lost $5 billion in 2008, and they expect an industrywide loss of $2.5 billion this year.

Forecasts indicate that international travel will fall 3% in 2009, while cargo traffic will decline by 5%. In addition, traffic volumes fell last year at LAX from 62.4 million to 59.5 million, a drop of 4.71%.

To maintain Los Angeles' status as an international gateway, LAX officials and the mayor have said they want a premier airport with a design that reflects the region's landscape. For $40 million, they hired Curt Fentress, a prominent architect who designed Denver International Airport, which has a peaked roof evocative of the Rocky Mountains.

In November, Fentress unveiled his conceptual plans for the Bradley terminal and other LAX improvements. Drawing inspiration from the ocean, Fentress designed glass and steel terminals with curving roof lines reminiscent of breaking waves.

Association officials say they are not interested in paying for grand architectural statements that add cost but not efficiency or functionality.

"Building an iconic gateway at this time is simply unnecessary and unaffordable to airlines and their passengers," Lavin wrote. "It will threaten the competitive position of Los Angeles as an international destination for cargo business and personal travel."

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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