LAWAs’ Samantha Bricker Unpacks the Next $15 Billion in Capital Improvements at LAX

Samantha Bricker

At the end of January, Los Angeles World Airports announced that it was entering the second phase of its Capital Improvement Program, a $15 billion plan for airfield improvements, terminal modernization, and most notably, the $5.5 billion Landside Access Modernization Program. VX News interviewed LAWA’s Chief Sustainability and Revenue Management Officer, Samantha Bricker, to obtain a fuller picture of both what the latter investment entails and what is yet to come from an additional $15 billion in planned capital improvement projects at LAX. Bricker highlights the much anticipated Automated People Mover and the Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility, as well as LAWA's sustainability commitments,'reimagination' of procurement, and plans to develop recreation and open space on LAX's north side.

The LAX website reads as follows: “A reimagined Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is on the horizon as part of a $15 billion Capital Improvement Program that will modernize terminals, provide an elevated guest experience, create a safer airfield, improve access to one of the world’s busiest airports and provide the long-awaited connection to regional transportation.” Is this, in a nutshell, your LAX job description?

Samantha Bricker:
It's not my job description alone, but it is basically the job description of the entire team here at LAWA.

To that, I'll add that we are finishing a $15 billion capital program and embarking on a new $15 billion capital program. There will be quite a transformation at LAX that we're hoping will mostly get done before the Olympics.

What priority projects are being invested in; and, what do you anticipate being completed before the 2028 Olympics?

Our big push right now is for the Automated People Mover, which is an electric train that will take passengers from points outside of the airport to three stations within the airport.

We are also building what we call a Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility, which will consolidate all of the rental cars around LAX into one building. It's about 5 million square feet. It is, I think, the largest concrete structure aside from the Pentagon.. It will house over 18,000 cars and will have a people mover station. Once that facility is open, we will no longer need those rental car shuttles driving around the airport which causes congestion. People will be able to drive directly to the rental car facility, hop on a train, and come into the airport.

We also have a station that is under construction that we call ITF East right now. It will interface with the Crenshaw Line Airport Metro Connector Station that's being built by Metro. It'll finally connect regional mass transit to our APM, and we will have remote curb for pickup and drop off there as well.

Then, we have our economy parking structure, which has actually opened to the public and is doing amazingly well. You can even pre-book your parking space. We will have over 500 Electric chargers as well. Right now, you can park there and take a bus into the airport. When the people mover opens, you will be able to hop right onto the train and come into the airport.

The three people mover stations in the airport will connect with passenger bridges  to the various terminals in the airport. What now could be a 45 minute timeframe to get around the CTA will be 10 minutes from the Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility all the way into the airport. We will run the trains every 2 minutes, 24 hours a day for free. It'll really transform the way people can get to the airport, and that is the big capital program that we have now.

We also have some other modernization projects underway. Delta just opened their new Terminal 3, which is a brand new, approximately $2 billion facility that will really change the way Delta passengers experience LAX. They are building, right now, a pedestrian connection to Tom Bradley so that if you want to go from international to domestic, you don't have to go out of security and come back in. American is also renovating their terminal, and Alaska is finishing improvements on their terminals. Almost every terminal within the airport will have gotten either a facelift or a major remodel over the last several years. Those projects are scheduled to be done in the next couple of years.

 For the upcoming $15 billion capital program, the big project is the Airfield & Terminal Modernization Project, which has a brand-new Terminal 9 south of Century and east of Sepulveda. It'll be our first passenger terminal in that area. We will also have a new Concourse 0 adjacent to Southwest’s Terminal 1. We will have airfield improvements that improve the taxiways on the North Airfield and we’ll have a brand new roadway system, estimated at almost $1 billion dollars that will separate out local traffic from airport traffic and change the way people access the airport. It will really consolidate the entrances and exits and elevate that roadway to help alleviate traffic and congestion in our neighborhoods. That is about to begin, and we're hoping the bulk of that will be done before the Olympics.

During Construction over the next two years, are you suggesting people stay away from LAX?

No, we are definitely not suggesting that, but we are suggesting that you plan your trip. We've done a lot of things to make that easier. As I said, you can now reserve your parking space, both in the terminals at the parking garages and at our economy parking garage, which many people are doing. If you reserve your space, you normally get a discounted rate on parking.

We also have our Flyaway bus service, which is very popular, from Union Station and from Van Nuys. It’s a straight shot and you come right into the terminal. Also, as part of ITF West and East, we're building what we call remote curbs. Those will make it easier to pick up and drop off outside of the central terminal area and get on the train.

We're trying to provide many different ways for people to access the airport, both while we're under construction and in our long-term operations.

You know well that changing public behavior is not easy. What is the airport doing to assist the traveling public to appreciate both present circumstances at LAX and the future ingress/egress behavior LAX wishes to encourage?

As part of the Environmental Impact Reports for both the Automated People Mover and the Airfield & Terminal Modernization project, we did make certain assumptions about how people would access the airport. We really want to feed people onto the Automated People Mover train, not only passengers, but employees as well.

We're looking at what we're calling a mode assignment policy where we're looking at how to maximize those ITF West and East facilities by assigning different modes (ie shuttles, uber, lyft, taxis) to pick up and drop off at various facilities. We're trying to make sure that we're distributing traffic. We don't want to overload any of the intersections, so we want to feed that train and that's very important.

We've also created a transportation management organization for LAX employees that provides incentives to take other options. We're one of the first airports in the country to subsidize a transit pass for employees. We're looking at carpool and vanpool matching across the whole campus for all employees who work at LAX. We've stood up this organization specifically to try to change behavior and provide people with alternate access.

We awarded a new Flyaway contract that will have the ability to buy your ticket in advance and get real time information on when those buses are coming. It also allows us to look at micro-transit planning. We're looking at various neighborhoods to expand micro-transit so that, again, we're giving people different options. We're going to need to do that as we build this new roadway system and these other projects going forward.

When you scan the world’s airports to possibly learn from and emulate, what attracts your interest?

The airport is almost a city in and of itself, so we look on a variety of levels of what other airports are doing not only in their capital programs, but in things like their concession programs as well.

Concessions and the guest experience are a very important part of LAX. People are really pursuing different models for concessions. For example, something called a ghost kitchen, where you have a centralized kitchen and you can push out different menus for different times of the day, which gives a lot more flexibility to meet passenger demand.

Sustainability and environmental responsibility is a very important part of what we do, so we're looking to what other airports are doing on things like sustainable aviation fuel. How we can maximize that fuel that is better for the environment? We have sustainable aviation fuel here, but we really want to partner to encourage it more.

We're also looking at what other airports do for transportation and looking at how to manage the people mover, our single-occupancy vehicles, and how we can maximize mass transit.

We are also looking at cargo modernization and have completed the procurement process for a developer for a future project. We want to optimize our  footprint at LAX, which is very small compared to most other airports. How do we utilize our space efficiently? The Cargo Modernization Plan will totally transform the way we handle cargo going forward, looking at using land more efficiently, incorporating sustainability in cargo, and to make sure that we're meeting that future demand.

We really take cues from airports all over the world on all of those projects.

Share with our readers the latest on passenger and cargo demand at LAX.

We are seeing some really encouraging numbers across the board when it comes to increasing passenger travel at LAX. When we look at the number of travelers going through TSA checkpoints at LAX in the first half of March 2023 it’s 86,952 average per day compared to the same period in 2022 of 74,008 average per day, we see an increase of 17.4% year on year. Passenger load factors in airplanes flying in and out of LAX have been approaching 90% this past weekend. This Spring Break, and every heavy travel period, we are experiencing numbers closer to our 2019 passenger numbers.

So, passenger demand has improved. We were hit very hard from the pandemic, but we have made gains. One of the biggest areas where we were hit was international traffic, especially traffic from Asia. Recently, China has opened up a bit in terms of travel, and so we anticipate that we will start recovering more in that market.

Cargo demand was very robust  during the pandemic and we anticipate that cargo demand will continue, which is one of the reasons why we did a  cargo study and a procurement process to bring a development team work with us to shape what cargo is going to look like in the future.

Returning to sustainability practices, elaborate on some of the achievements of LAWA’s efforts, given the city of Los Angeles’ commitment to being on the cutting edge of addressing climate change. What's now included in the present project buildout?

Sustainability has really become embedded in a lot of our thinking, not just on environmental initiatives, but into our development and also the equity and business development pieces, which we think is a really important part of sustainability.

We adopted a Sustainability Action Plan in 2019, and we've been implementing that. We actually just did a relook at some of the areas like air quality and waste to see how we can up our game in those areas too.

We have a solar RFP that we just did out in Van Nuys, and we're hoping to award that contract in the near future, which will develop a solar farm near the Van Nuys Airport up to 10 megawatts. We have solar as part of the Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility here near LAX and on our maintenance facility for the people mover. Solar has become very important, and we have robust targets for air quality and energy.

In terms of natural habitat and biodiversity, we own and maintain the Dunes, which is next to the airport and home of the El Segundo blue butterfly. It’s very important to make sure that we're restoring that habitat and we spend a lot of money and effort partnering with the Bay Foundation and others to make sure that we maintain it.

We're looking at very robust air quality issues, such as an all-electric sedan fleet by 2031. We also will have an all-electric bus fleet by 2030. We will have over 1200 electric vehicle chargers at the parking lots for LAX. We are in the procurement process for a fast-charging lot for Ubers and Lyfts and taxis, so that they can fast charge their electric vehicles serving the airport.

We are also looking at things in the waste category. We have a food donation program. Prepackaged food doesn't go in the trash. We obligate our concessionaires to have a relationship with a social service agency or organization to take pre-packaged food that's not used. We also have a single-use plastic water bottle ban.

Of course, we have a minimum LEED Silver policy, but we're also looking to see how we can incorporate Envision, which is another certification program, into our future buildings.

Samantha, acknowledging the broad responsibilities subsumed under the title of Chief Sustainability and Revenue Manager Officer for LAWA; please address the management responsibilities that fall to you.

I oversee the commercial building group and the real estate group. That is everything from airline leases to concession agreements to real estate holdings to leases, both on and off campus.

I also oversee the procurement group, called the strategic sourcing group. That's an area that we're really looking at right now. It’s very important to try to reimagine procurement. If we're going to do $15 billion worth of work, we need to make sure that there is ample participation both from prime contractors as well as subs. We want to make sure that small businesses are able to participate in these programs. We want to encourage and increase our outreach on upcoming requests for proposals. We also want to make it easier for people to bid on projects here at the airport.

We're implementing an e-procurement program, which will make things easier for vendors and staff. Proposals will be submitted electronically, making it easier and more efficient for vendors and for staff to review. We're also developing an 18-month look ahead of all the contracts that are coming up so that people have time to team up and know what projects they want to bid on.

In terms of leases and concession real estate, one of the latest things that we're very excited about is we just entered into a lease with the Kimmelman Family Foundation to develop recreation and open space on our north side. We have a lease with Kimmelman Family Foundation to spend a minimum of $65 million of philanthropic money to develop open recreation space, tennis courts, soccer fields, multipurpose fields, a dog park, and a playground for children at no cost to the city and no cost to the airport. They will design, build, operate and maintain that facility for 50 years. They partnered with USTA, Tiger Woods Foundation, and others to bring this facility. It will be an about $125 million gift to the City of Los Angeles and its residents. They hope to break ground later this year.

Is there a better job than this? Is this your Dream Job?

Well, we have a great team and our CEO Justin Erbacci is a great leader. He has assembled a really good team of talent and there's no way that you could do all of that work and run LAX and Van Nuys with one person, so it is a team effort for sure. We have a lot of people who bring really amazing talent, and it is quite awe-inspiring to be with this group.

I've been in public service my whole career, and every day I get to learn something and work with amazing stakeholders. At the end of the day, what’s an honor is we're transforming how people come to LA and what their first impression of it is, and we know that these changes will be here for generations to come.

Lastly, let’s pivot to the LA 2028 Olympic Games and the infrastructure investments being made. Address the challenges of completing projects in time for the Games;  and, and what in essence the visiting public can expect upon arrival.

With the size of our capital program and the speed at which we're moving it forward, we are very mindful of that date and wanting to make sure that we complete projects within that amount of time.

These are really big challenges, and we're going to have to work very closely with the City of Los Angeles, Caltrans, and other stakeholders to make sure that the roadways are complete and the terminals are constructed.

We're going to just urge the public to have patience while we go through this construction because there will be a lot of work going on, and we want people to still come to the airport. Plan your trip wisely.

 The people mover is scheduled to open next year. We think that will really provide a wonderful alternative for people to get picked up and dropped off and to find another way besides fighting the horseshoe. They'll have clear travel in 10 minutes or less. We're going to really do a big push for people to make sure that they're taking advantage of that program.

“…we are finishing a $15 billion capital program and embarking on a new $15 billion capital program. There will be quite a transformation at LAX that we're hoping will mostly get done before the Olympics.”—Samantha Bricker