Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is now set for major growth. Ahead of the 2028 Olympics set to happen in Los Angeles, the airport is now cleared for a major expansion that will build out a new concourse and a new terminal that will set the airport up for new, incredible growth. Alongside the new facilities, expect airlines to ramp up the competition in advance of the games and jockey for positions in the expanded facilities.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
Let the jockeying begin: LAX’s new terminals have received board approval. Photo: Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)/Jacob Brosseau

Los Angeles is cleared for expansion

On October 7th, the Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC) for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has approved the expansion for the airport that will build a new concourse, a new terminal, add parking, continue to fix roadway construction, and optimize the airfield with taxiway improvements, among others.

The expansion has been under study for a few years at this point. In September, the BOAC took up the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for airfield modernization. The expansion is also coming as the airport has been working on improvements in several locations. Many of those projects have been going on for a few years and have seen everything from terminal swaps, gate closures, and more to facilitate easy construction.

Frontier Airlinse
Los Angeles is looking to expand with a new terminal and concourse spaces to facilitate more airline growth. Photo: Getty Images

For now, the approval still has a few more steps to go through. The city will need to also approve the plan. It is expected that there will be a focus on making the expansion as environmentally friendly as possible, including utilizing renewable energy sources to power the facilities and making improvements in supporting airline-driven efforts on sustainable operations, such as using alternative fuels.

Nevertheless, the project is moving forward. There is still some time before the ground officially breaks on the expansion, but this marks another hurdle that the expansion has cleared.

What the new expansion will entail

The highlights of the expansion is the construction of a new Concourse 0 off of the existing Terminal 1 and a new Terminal 9 near the existing Terminal 8. Along with these new airport structures, the airport will also be adding more apron and taxiway space to facilitate the expanded aircraft operations and reduce congestion away from the terminal.

The new Concourse 0 will include 11 narrowbody aircraft gates. However, it will result in a net increase in nine gates considering the two existing gates that will be cannibalized in the expansion. The new Concourse 0 would extend eastward from the existing Terminal 1. All of these gates will facilitate narrowbody aircraft.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
The new Concourse 0 and Terminal 9. Photo: LAWA BOAC Board Documents

Meanwhile, on the other side of the airport, the new Terminal 9 will be located to the east of Terminal 8. This will partially cannibalize where American Airlines has a regional concourse supporting flights under the American Eagle banner. The final gate layout of Terminal 9 is not yet confirmed, given that it can support up to 12 widebody gates or up to 18 narrowbody gates or various combinations thereof. Future tenants of this terminal will likely determine what the final structure of this terminal will look like.

Building for 2028 and beyond

Looming large over the airport’s expansion is the 2028 Olympics. With under seven years to go, the construction will need to move forward at an impressive rate to be able to be done in time for the first travelers to start coming to LAX to visit this event.

However, even beyond 2028, traffic at LAX is expected to continue to grow. The city has shown almost no signs of slowing down as a major business and leisure destination. LAX also benefits from being the leading airport for domestic and international travel to and from the Los Angeles area.

While there are some area airports, including Long Beach (LGB), Burbank (BUR), Orange County (SNA), and Ontario (ONT), various of these airports are not perfect alternatives. Long Beach, for example, cannot handle international flying. Orange County has a short runway that cannot handle widebodies and has a limited number of operations it can support.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
Delta Air Lines is a sponsor of the 2028 Olympics, and LAX will be key for flying people in and out of the city for the event. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Ontario and Burbank appear as alternate airports that could relieve some pressure on LAX. Ontario has successfully gotten international flights, with Avianca entering the fray, China Airlines historically flying to the airport from its hub in Taipei, and now new startup Norse Atlantic is even eying the airport. However, the airport is a hike from the main center of Los Angeles.

Burbank is another option, but it has its own share of struggles. The airport is in a prime position to target some of the leisure destinations north of Los Angeles. Still, it suffers from a lack of recognition as a major airport, and it sees a minimal presence from major hub airlines compared to LAX. Southwest is Burbank’s largest carrier.

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Let the jockeying being at LAX

Concourse 0, located just off of Terminal 1, is in a prime position for the dominant airline in the terminal to add more gates and grow its position. Terminal 1 is Southwest Airlines’ home in LAX. Come 2028, it will undoubtedly be ready to expand significantly out of the airport. The nine new gates could be used for some serious expansion, potentially at home and to some near-field international destinations.

Terminal 9, however, has long been eyed by United Airlines and its partners in the Star Alliance. United calls Terminals 7 and 8 home at LAX, and bringing its partners over to Terminal 9 with easier connections could be a huge benefit to the airline and alliance position in LAX.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
United Airlines has been eyeing Terminal 9 hungrily for itself and its partners. Photo: LAWA/Jacob Brosseau

However, the expanded Terminal 9 is going to require knocking down the American Airlines regional concourse. The problem is that American is still going to have a sizable regional presence out of the city, and those flights need to go somewhere. This is where American’s current space in Terminal 4 and 5 will come in handy.

While American’s Terminal 4 is its main hub at LAX, the carrier does have a presence in Terminal 5, but it shares the space with several other airlines. This includes Spirit Airlines and JetBlue. Hawaiian Airlines also used Terminal 5. However, it is set to move to the new gates at Tom Bradley International Terminal next week.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
American’s regional operations will be impacted, but it is expected that the carrier will be able to move some flights into its existing LAX footprint. Photo: LAWA

If LAX can keep getting some room in Terminal 5 by moving out some of the existing airlines, it can solve the problem of American’s regional operations. However, JetBlue and Spirit both also want to grow out of LAX, and it may not be easy to get the carriers out of Terminal 5. However, if Star Alliance carriers move to Terminal 9, there could be room to move these airlines to spots in Terminal 6 or the TBIT. It may also come with some financial compensation for those airlines.

Let The Games Begin: Los Angeles Cleared For Major Airport Expansion
LAX is just going to keep getting competitive ahead of the Olympics. Photo: LAWA

Ultimately, the Olympics of 2028 are going to be a massive deal for airlines and air travel. Attracting visitors from all over the world, this will also be the first time since 1996 when the US will hold the Summer Olympics. In 1996, it was Atlanta that hosted the Olympics. LAX is gearing up to handle the expanded traffic, and both the new Concourse 0 and Terminal 9 will add necessary space for airlines that are hungry to grow.