LAX in Los Angeles is the US’s ‘most innovative large-hub airport’, but that accolade isn’t a new thing: the hub has a history of innovation

6 September, 2019

The American Association of Airport Executives has selected Los Angeles International (LAX) as the recipient of its 2019 award as the country’s most innovative large-hub airport. Among LAX’s innovations is its ‘Shop and Dine’ digital marketplace, under which passengers can purchase items or meals online prior to going to the airport and pick them up once arriving in the terminal. LAX has also created information-sharing regarding parking, traffic, shuttles, and the impacts of ongoing construction.

Those enhancements are fairly cosmetic but in fact you can trace LAX’s ‘innovation’ considerably further back in time. In 2014 CAPA - Centre for Aviation published a report (‘Sweet Dreams at LAX’) on the airport and its governing authority Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), just as the New Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) opened. At that time the state of California as well as Los Angeles city and county was facing a critical budget crisis. Committing public funds to major airport projects rather than social issues required steely political nerve.

One structural innovation saw the new terminal offering nine gates which were capable of accommodating the A380 despite the fact that at that time it was being operated by only 10 airlines worldwide to less than 40 cities, with none flown by any US carrier. It was an example of forward-thinking by LAWA because few US airports initially made preparations for that aircraft which encompassed height, breadth, air bridge functionality, loading/unloading, supply and pavement/apron strength issues amongst many others. Accordingly, all 10 of those airlines were operational at LAX at the time and deploying the A380 at least occasionally.

At the same time, and under a heading of ‘Hollywood lands at LAX,’ it was revealed that passengers would also experience, for the first time, one of the most advanced multimedia Integrated Environmental Media Systems (IEMS) at a North American airport. Designed to create an “unprecedented” passenger experience and additional non-aeronautical revenue source for LAX, the revenue-generating platform was the first sponsorship programme at a US airport.

The IEMS included seven very large media features built within the new terminal's interior architecture. It is comprised of over 12,000 square feet of light-emitting-diode (LED) tiles, hundreds of liquid-crystal-display (LCD) screens, and totalling more than four hours of original content. The IEMS has a total output of more than 105 million pixels (eight times an IMAX theatre) and has 88 high-definition (HD) video playback channels, enough to run all the media screens in New York City's Times Square district.

It should perhaps not be considered surprising that ‘first mover’ implementation of this type of technology should be at the principal international airport serving Hollywood and, for that matter, the original Disneyland in Anaheim.

Throughout 2014, in keeping with the City of Los Angeles’ Public Percent-for-Art Programme, whereby one per cent of construction costs is designated for public art, three iconic, permanent public and free-to-view artworks were installed

This is art on a level that is scarcely found in European airports (with a few honourable exceptions) and to a higher level still than is often found in Asia. Commissions included a hovering, 7,000-pound sculpture titled Air Garden and one titled Bell Tower, suspended above a newly relocated federal passenger security screening area.

The New TBIT Project cost was funded from LAX’s operating revenues, capital improvement programme funds, fees from airlines, passenger facility charges, and airport revenue bond proceeds. No monies from the City’s general fund were used.

Indeed LAX has a history of imaginative non-aero ventures, such as the conversion in the late 1990s of a landmark central building (The Theme Building) into an upmarket restaurant (The Encounter Restaurant) and targeted at Angelinos rather than passengers.

Latterly, the innovation has come in another direction entirely, the imaginative instigation of public-private partnerships (P3s) not only to build terminal infrastructure but in the case of LAX for a central car rental building and a people mover from a new Metro station that will handle two lines into the airport for final delivery to the nine passenger terminals. In fact it could be argued that LAWA is leading the way nationally in the financing of infrastructure as well as the innovative Imagineering of customer facilities.