Transformative Capital Improvements Underway at LAX: LAWA’s Samantha Bricker


This month, Los Angeles International Airport completed substantial construction of its new Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility in preparation for tenants to complete their individual  final buildouts, but that is far from all that’s in the works at LA’s busiest airport. For an update on the aforementioned, VX News spoke with Samantha Bricker, Los Angeles World Airport’s Chief Sustainability and Revenue Management Officer, about the numerous (ongoing and future) capital, operational, and workforce investments happening at Los Angeles World Airports. Ranging  from an electric Automated People Mover train with new stations inside and outside of the Central Terminal Area, new terminals,  electrified ground support equipment and vehicles to innovative methods of procurement, Bricker affirms that in the next decade of investment in LAX will be transformative.

Samantha, with the LAWA title of Chief Sustainability and Revenue Management Officer, elaborate on the array of responsibilities you’re now entrusted with overseeing.

Samantha Bricker: LAWA has a lot of things happening right now. This title allows me to be involved in a lot of different projects all over the airport.  I oversee the Environmental Programs Division, which includes noise, mobility, and parking. All of those areas have a lot of synergy together with our sustainability efforts. I also oversee the commercial development group, which manages relationships with rental cars, concessions, commercial development leases, terminals, and property development. Then, I also oversee procurement.

My role allows me to look at things holistically. I can make sure that when we're preparing Requests For Proposals (or RFPs) that we're following best practices and making changes that allow us to get complex procurements on the street so we can get competitive bids. I get to have my hand in a lot of different things at the airport, and of course, it’s never boring.

Obviously, much of the infrastructure investment being made at LAX is intended to precede the Olympics and other global sporting events that will be taking place in Los Angeles this decade. Share what's now out on the street: ie. the electric automated people mover, new LAX terminals, and LAWA’s electrification program?

Well, we have a lot happening. We're in the midst of an estimated $14.6 billion capital improvement program, which includes the development of a new automated people mover that will be an electric train running from a new consolidated rental car facility into the Central Terminal Area. We're taking all of the rental car facilities, of which there are about 21 different locations near the airport, and consolidating them into one building that will be near the 405 and La Cienega, coupled with a train station. We will have two more train stations that will also serve as new remote access curbs, as well as a new parking structure outside of the airport. Then, there will be three stations inside of the airport. This will provide passengers with a clean and sustainable option for getting into LAX and also connect them with mass transit along the Crenshaw and Green lines and a large bus hub that Metro is building. We have about 50,000 employees who work at LAX, so providing a link to mass transit is crucial. Reducing vehicle miles traveled and reducing our emissions is also key.

We also have just environmentally cleared and have the first procurements out on the street for what we call our new Airfield and Terminal Modernization Program (ATMP). That's a $6 billion project that we are trying to build ahead of the Olympics that will include a new Terminal 9 and a new Concourse Zero. It will include a brand-new roadway network that will separate airport traffic from local traffic, allowing less congestion in neighborhoods and smooth flow of traffic on Sepulveda. There will also be airfield improvements that are designed to help increase safety and efficiency of the north airfield.

We have the roadway improvements RFP out on the street right now. It will be a progressive design build contract. We also released  a new PM/CM (project manager/construction manager) RFP to manage this  roadway work. We will have a new procurement out on the street for the airfield improvements coming up very quickly.

In terms of electrification, our Board of Airport Commissioners  just passed an Electric Vehicle Purchasing Policy, which sets a very robust goal of changing our entire sedan fleet to electric by 2031. We have a target for all of our buses to be electric by 2030. We are installing about 1,200 smart chargers for electric vehicles in our parking garages, and we are venturing into electrification of ground support equipment. We have thousands of pieces of equipment at our airport, and we are looking to incentivize the airlines and other ground support equipment handlers to go to electric ground support equipment.

We're pursuing sustainability on all levels of our capital projects, as well as their everyday operations.

Given your dual role overseeing sustainability and revenue management, elaborate on the sustainable, cost effective & innovative technologies that have been proposed for inclusion in design and construction bids?

We did a series of meetings earlier this year called a ‘request for industry comment.’ We went out on the street and let people know that we had this roadway RFP that was about to go out. We wanted their input before we did the procurement, so we talked about things like innovative construction techniques and innovative procurement methods. We got input from many firms, contractors, designers and construction managers on the best ways to move forward. We had a good dialogue on  different building techniques, maintenance of traffic,  and technology and were able to include what we learned in the RFP that is currently out on the street.

With the construction of the ATMP project,  we will be taking out the Skyway bridge from Sepulveda Boulevard and building a new roadway network with a consolidated entrance into the airport.  We need to make sure that we can continue operations to the airport while this new roadway is being built. That is going to take a huge amount of innovation and maintenance of traffic techniques, and so we want builders to propose innovative ways of getting this done. We want people to come to us with their proposals of how to do this within a time period, how to maintain traffic to the airport, what innovative construction techniques can be built into the project, and how we alleviate the impacts on our adjacent communities.

We're also looking at a variety of innovative ways of getting people out of their cars during construction, but also long-term. We want to reduce vehicle miles traveled to the airport and greenhouse gas emissions. We are looking at things like intelligent transportation systems on major corridors into the airport that will help not only synchronize lights, but provide data and smart technology so that we can change lights or provide messages on digital signs.

We're doing a congestion pricing study, which our board just approved, that will look at how we access the airport and how we drive people to the new stations and facilities that serve the automated people mover. Our horseshoe which is the road inside the Central Terminal Area is very valuable real estate--how do we utilize it in the best way possible.  We're looking at things like a new Flyaway bus contract, which instead of just fixed route service, we're bringing on provider who will be able to provide on-demand service.

We've also formed a Transportation Management Organization for our employees to incentivize them to find other ways to get to the airport besides a single occupancy vehicle.  We've partnered with the city of Inglewood on a shuttle that takes employees who live in Inglewood to the central terminal area in 17 minutes on average. I don't think you can get anywhere in LA in 17 minutes.

Pivoting, VX News recently published an interview with Ingrid Merriwether, who's been contracted to implement LA's regional contractor development and bonding program to help small and diverse businesses win government contracts. Share some of  LAWA’s procurement initiatives to advance diversity, inclusion and equity?

Inclusivity is a really important part of what we're doing at LAWA. One of the things that we've done is actually include inclusivity as part of our scoring criteria for many of our procurements.  In addition to having a small or a disadvantaged business goal, inclusivity can mean showcasing how firms are  involved in mentoring programs or bonding programs that help your subs. This allows us to score people not just for meeting the goals, but also giving them extra points if they have innovative ideas on inclusivity or have a good track record.

 My role at LAWA also includes  overseeing procurement. One of the things that we're going to be doing is centralizing procurement. Right now, every division does their own procurement and there is no standardization of templates, scoring or critiera, which makes it very difficult to have consistent procurements where developers and bidders have a clear understanding of what is required. It also makes it difficult to do proper outreach and get the word out about upcoming procurements making it hard  to reach new primes and subs who would be interested in bidding on projects.

We're coming up with an outreach group in our new centralized procurement division that will work with each of the divisions on their procurements and get the word out to potential bidders. One of the biggest issues is that by the time an RFP is out on the street, teams have already formed. It's very hard for people to break in. Also, by going out for requests for industry comment before an RFP is issued, it gives us a way of getting the word out ahead of time before an RFP is out on the street, so we get feedback from primes and subs. We can then incorporate that feedback into our RFP and make it more competitive for folks.

We do have a very active Business, Jobs, and Social Responsibility division. They have been very involved, for example, in hiring fairs. Recently, we've been struggling to get workers at the airport. We have a lot of shortages in our concessions group, bus drivers, and airport operations. We've had hiring fairs where we get hundreds of people to partner with employers. They get offers on the spot to get people to work at the airport, and then we process their badging right away. That group is an integral part of not only working with our small businesses, but working with our local communities on local hire, and getting the right people to be able to work in the airport.

In addition to being CSO you also manage revenue. Elaborate on the latter responsibility. How is LAWA, a proprietary department of the City of LA, funding its ambitious capital program?

We are not taxpayer-funded. We get all of our funding from aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenue. I mostly oversee and manage growth in the non-aeronautical revenue. That includes things like concession revenues, parking revenues, revenue from rents, and property deals. That's an area that really is ripe for a lot of opportunity.

We just did a presentation to our board on all of the things that we're working on for revenue opportunities. There are typical things like expanding our concessions, opening new lounges, or opening common-use lounges where people can pay for a day pass.

Another idea that we're pushing is our digital marketplace. That can include ordering concessions through an app and having it delivered to your gate. We’re looking at things like ghost kitchens to have centralized kitchens that can be more flexible and really expand the concession space.

We also have opportunities when  the automated people mover opens with the West Station, which is about 50,000 square feet of meet and greet space near Tom Bradley. We are looking at things like a business center, sleep pods, and concessions going in there.

We're also looking at how we maximize our development opportunities. When the project is done, there'll be surplus property fronting of Century Boulevard near La Cienega and Aviation. We'll be able to develop that space. We also have an area on the Northside  that we call the Bow Tie that includes approximately 66 acres available for development. We also have areas in Van Nuys where we're redeveloping hangars and as well as opportunities on our land in Palmdale.

Parking is also a huge source of revenue. We've implemented what we call smart parking in our parking garages, where we now have EV charging, valet, premium parking, and a reservation system. That's all bringing in a lot of revenue.

It's really quite exciting because we have so many innovative opportunities going forward.

Given you will asked at VerdeXchange’s upcoming VX2022 Conference, does LAWA anticipate securing federal or state funding to support its planned and ambitious capital program?

We're not dependent on it, but we do get FAA grants for work at the airport. We also have FAA funding for things like our residential sound insulation program, where we sound insulate homes in our adjacent communities.

We are looking at things like Build Back Better, to see what we could be eligible for. We have a lot of upcoming projects that we have now changed to follow the federal procurement process so we might be eligible for those grants. We are looking especially at opportunities for electrification and EVs going forward. This ground support equipment for electrification will put us in a good position to apply for some of those grants. We're also looking at grant opportunities for the electric buses.

With LAWA being a LA City proprietary department, how does the airport integrate its capital program with the other City agencies and other proprietary departments to effectively leverage its investments for the benefit of the City ?

We partner with a lot of the other departments, especially DWP, as we have a lot of shared interests. We've been in discussions with them about some of the hydrogen opportunities, electrification, and even things like micro grids and resiliency.

We also have a Mayor's group that convenes a sustainability forum every month where all the sustainability deputies across the city of Los Angeles share information and partner together. There are a lot of opportunities, shared values, and shared needs. If we can work together on a lot of these opportunities, it's of big benefit for the City of LA.

Lastly, how has LAWA learned from the practices of other airports around the world to improve service and operations at LAX?

We're very involved in ACI World, which is Airports Council International. There are various committees on everything from security to technology to sustainability. Working with other airports is really the best way to look at a lot of issues and see what works and what doesn't.

One of the things I'm very involved in right now is workforce hiring, and how difficult it is for airports around the world to attract people. It goes way beyond the pilot shortage you hear about. People complain that concessions aren't open late at night; we don't have enough people to staff them. We don't have enough bus drivers to provide bus service.  

As well, aircraft are the biggest source of emissions. How do you deal with that issue when you don't regulate airplanes? We can't control the airplanes that the airlines buy. We work with other airports to get ideas and compare strategies on how to deal with all of these issues.  We are constantly working with other airports and getting information on best practices. We're always looking to meet with folks and get ideas of what's working elsewhere.

"We're in the midst of an estimated $14.6 billion capital improvement program, which includes the development of a new [electric] automated people mover…[and] have procurements out on the street for what we call our new Airfield and Terminal Modernization Program … a $6 billion project that we are trying to build ahead of the Olympics that will include a new Terminal 9 and a new Concourse Zero." -Samantha Bricker, LAWA