LOS ANGELES — The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said failing to further separate two runways at Los Angeles International Airport would be a serious mistake.
The warning by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt came two months after an academic panel concluded there was no need to reconfigure the north field runways because altering them wouldn't make them much safer.
"The status quo is not good enough for the FAA, and the city of Los Angeles should not view it as good enough for the traveling public," Babbitt wrote to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in an April 2 letter.
A federal study done two years ago showed the airport had more runway incursions – incidents in which aircraft strayed into areas designated for takeoffs and landings – than any U.S. airport.
Villaraigosa had hoped the recent academic study would put to rest more than two decades of dispute between the FAA and locals who worried that runway changes would cost millions of dollars and prompt airport expansion into neighborhoods.
Babbitt, a former airline pilot, said he had flown into the airport hundreds of times, and there should be more space between the two north runways.
He noted two close calls occurred on the runways last month, and the current layout is too cramped for jumbo jets such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787.
He also said a drop occurred in the number of near collisions after south airfield runways were separated. The $333 million project was completed two years ago.
Babbitt criticized the academic safety study as flawed and outlined a list of technical concerns, even though it was supported by simulations conducted at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Villaraigosa said he opposed reconfiguring the north airfield unless it's clearly demonstrated that safety demands it. However, he said Babbitt's letter has raised serious safety questions that cannot be ignored.
The mayor has asked the Board of Airport Commissioners and Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX, to review the issues.