Like an aging cinema queen, Los Angeles International Airport is undergoing a dramatic makeover designed to make it appear younger and more attractive to its passengers. But the $6.5 billion price is undoubtedly higher than any facelift ever done in nearby Hollywood.

The centrepiece of the project will be the new Bradley terminal that will handle international traffic and include 16 new gates for next-generation aircraft A380s, 787s and 747-800s. The new terminal will be built west of the existing terminal, which will be torn down upon completion of the new facility.

Renovations are being done to the rest of the concourses and terminals at LAX, including new elevators, in-line baggage systems, improved concession areas and an expansion of custom inspection counters. It will also include common-use ticket counters

"We're bringing the facility into the 21st century," says Mark Thorpe, Director Air Service Development and Office of Regionalization for Los Angeles World Airports. The light-filled terminal will reflect the city's coastal beauty as well as its diverse culture, Thorpe explains. "Instead of a box, we wanted to give arriving guests a sense of where they were. Los Angeles is an exciting town."

The design of the Bradley terminal features a cantilevered roof with a flow reminiscent of waves breaking on shore. It will be connected to the other concourses via above ground pedestrian bridges. "You're in a California experience. And it's cheaper than digging," Thorpe says.

Currently the airport serves 56 million passengers annually - a significant drop over 2000, when 67 million passengers went through LAX. But growth, particularly in international traffic, has been edging up, Thorpe says. By 2014, the airport is projecting 63 million passengers will use LAX.

Nearly 9,300m² of space will be dedicated to premium lounges at the Bradley terminal, which will enable alliance partner airlines to use a single lounge for their premium passengers.

Particular care will be directed at the concessions programme, with sit-down dining and high-end retailers like Fendi, Chanel and Gucci. A robust concession programme is expected to sharply increase revenue for LAX.

"Today, the concession experience is pretty dismal," Thorpe admits. "We just don't offer as much. There's nowhere to go but up."

The political climate has changed around LAX, making it easier for the airport to move forward with this ambitious plan, Thorpe says. He describes the "perfect storm", in which the airport, elected officials and the surrounding community finally reached agreement on the size and scope of the project.

"There was a political balkanisation for more than a decade. The surrounding communities had been suing the airport for years," he says. "But nobody beats an airport in the US with a lawsuit. We committed to a limited number of gates. They [the community] had a ceiling they could rely on for the first time."

Source: Flight Daily News