March 6, 2002
LAX Upgrade for larger jets could cost $1.2 billion
March 6, 2002
By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON -- It could cost Los Angeles International Airport more than $1.2 billion to accommodate a new generation of large passenger jets that the Airbus corporation plans to introduce at U.S. airports in 2006, according to a new congressional study.
The congested airport would need to make numerous upgrades to handle the massive A380 under current Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. In fact, LAX accounted for more than half of the $2.08 billion in expenditures that congressional investigators reported would be necessary at 14 airports nationwide that expect to be served by the aircraft by 2010.
However, the report cautioned that the cost estimates could change because of a number of factors, including an FAA review of whether the standards for handling ""new large aircraft'' should be revised.
Airbus officials also challenged the cost estimates, which were provided by the airports. The European manufacturer contends LAX's costs would be closer to $177 million and that the total cost for all 14 airports would be $520 million.
The report by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., and aviation subcommittee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va.
The committee oversees the FAA and a key federal grant program that airports can tap to make improvements.
The A380 would be significantly bigger than the largest commercial aircraft currently serving U.S. airports, the Boeing 747. It will weigh up to 1.2 million pounds and seat from 555 to 880 passengers.
As such, many airports may have to upgrade runways, taxiways, terminals and other facilities to safely accommodate the plane.
At LAX, one major expenditure -- $508 million -- would involve a freeway that runs under the airfield, the report said. Another $398 million would have to be spent on runway upgrades at LAX.
Even with the improvements, LAX and most of the other 14 airports told the GAO they do not expect to fully meet current FAA standards for handling the larger planes. They plan to apply to the FAA for modifications to the standards or restrict the planes' operations.
Many large airports could serve the A380 by placing restrictions on its ground operations or those of other aircraft, the GAO conceded. However, that could make congestion and delays at the airports even worse than they are now, the report said.
The FAA is expected to decide by 2003 whether to revise its guidelines for new large aircraft.
The GAO said the cost estimates for airport upgrades could be affected by several other factors, including a possible reduction in demand for the aircraft because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and increased airport security.
Airbus said the cost projections reported by the GAO ""reflect extremely rough and inconsistent estimating.'' For instance, it said a $223 million cost cited by LAX for eight new gates ""is related to growth,'' not the new aircraft.
""Airbus is convinced, based upon detailed liaison with airport operators throughout the world, that in the majority of cases there is no safety need to bring existing airport air side facilities to (the higher FAA) standard to accommodate the A380,'' company Deputy Vice President Didier Puyplat wrote to the GAO.