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North America

What’s New on LAX’s $6 Billion Expansion Project Ahead of 2028 Olympics

Edward Russell
December 16th, 2022 at 10:41 AM EST

A new terminal under construction at LAX

Los Angeles International Airport is moving forward with two long anticipated terminal expansions aimed at boosting capacity ahead of the 2028 Olympics at one of the busiest airports in the U.S.

The projects in question are the planned nine-gate Concourse 0, an eastern extension of Terminal 1, and an up to 18-gate Terminal 9 east of the existing Terminal 8 and attached via a bridge across Sepulveda Boulevard. The expansion projects are budgeted to cost a combined $6 billion, and scheduled to open by 2027.

New documents, presented to the board of LAX operator Los Angeles World Airports on Thursday, show Southwest Airlines making big gains in terms of gates from the Concourse 0 project. However, United Airlines, which has long pushed for control of Terminal 9, went unmentioned in the latest description of the new facility.

Progress on the LAX expansions come as air travel has surged back from the pandemic. U.S. airlines have carried more travelers than they did in 2019 on several holiday weekends since Labor Day in September. However, average traffic numbers have hovered at around 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels for months, in part due to airlines flying fewer seats than they did three years ago. U.S. passenger numbers were down 9 percent compared to 2019 during the week ending December 4, the latest Airlines for America (A4A) data show.

Airports, in response to the faster-than-forecast recovery, are either opening or moving forward with billions-of-dollars in capital projects. Orlando International Airport opened its new $2.8 billion South Terminal in September, while airports from Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix have resumed projects paused during the pandemic. In addition, the availability of $5 billion in new federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has prompted some airports to accelerate long-term expansion plans, for example a new 14-gate regional concourse at Washington Dulles airport for United.

At LAX, the airport was known before the pandemic as “gate tight” — or not having enough gates for existing airline schedules, let alone future expansion. That has driven numerous expansion projects over the past decade including the West Gates satellite that opened in 2021, and the plans for Concourse 0 and Terminal 9.

Southwest will have 22 gates across Concourse 0 and Terminal 1 at LAX when the former concourse opens, according to the LAWA presentation. The total number of gates is only possible if Southwest gets preferential use of all nine gates in Concourse 0. The new facility is scheduled to open in 2026.

An airline spokesperson said Southwest was “excited” to continue working with LAWA on the plans for Concourse 0.

Terminal 9, which could have 18 gates for narrowbody aircraft or 12 gates for widebody planes, is described as an “international common-use terminal,” by LAWA in the presentation. United CEO Scott Kirby has pushed for the facility to be the domain of United and its Star Alliance partners, which include All Nippon Airways and Lufthansa. The Terminal 9 description does not exclude United’s plans, nor does it confirm them as it does Southwest’s expansion into Concourse 0.

“We need more gates,” Kirby said of its LAX footprint in October 2021. “I think [Terminal 9 will] be great for us. [But] it’s taking a long time.”

The airport plans to seek funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Terminal 9 but not Concourse 0, the presentation shows.

LAX passenger numbers recovered to nearly 83 percent of 2019 levels, or 89,198 travelers a day, in November, according to a separate presentation by LAWA CEO Justin Erbacci on Thursday. The airport handled 54.6 million passengers during the 10 months ending in October, or 74 percent of numbers three years earlier, LAX data show.

LAWA expects passenger traffic to surpass 2019 levels during the fiscal year ending in June 2025, and then grow at a rate of roughly 1.7 percent annually thereafter, an August report by adviser WJ Advisors shows. Domestic traveler numbers are expected to recover a year earlier, which is sooner than previous forecasts.

LAX was the second busiest airport in the U.S. after Atlanta in 2019. However, it was fifth busiest last year as the uneven recovery in air travel propelled airports like Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver ahead of it.

A number of airport improvements that were begun before the pandemic have opened recently or are near opening at LAX. In October, the airport and Delta Air Lines opened a new Terminal 3 concourse, which is part of a $2.3 billion upgrade to Terminals 2 and 3 at the airport led by Delta. And a new automated people mover linking all of the airport’s terminals with a new rental car center and train station of the Los Angeles Metro system is expected to open next year.

United did not respond to an inquiry on the status of the Terminal 9 project.

Edward Russell
December 16th, 2022 at 10:41 AM EST

Tags: North America

Photo credit: A new terminal under construction at LAX Delta Air Lines

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