Los Angeles International Airport finds itself caught in an unlikely squeeze: European airplane maker Airbus wants expensive terminal improvements while airlines are complaining about the increasing cost of flying out of LAX.


Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., is publicly pressuring airport operator Los Angeles World Airports to make terminal improvements that it maintains are necessary to accommodate Airbus' new 555-passenger, A380 super-jumbo jet. The airport is expected to become the No. 2 A380 hub worldwide, behind only Heathrow Airport in London.


Indeed, there's industry speculation the recent decision by the jet maker to land the Airbus' U.S. trial flight in March at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport instead of LAX was a ploy to pressure the Los Angeles airport into committing to the improvements.


That view is given support by a letter Alan Rothenberg, president of the Board of Airport Commissioners, wrote to Airbus Chief Executive Louis Gallois on Feb. 19. He accused the jet maker of "going back on its word to the people of Los Angeles" by changing the course of the maiden U.S. flight after LAX had "spent more than $50 million in structural upgrades specific to the needs of the A380 aircraft and others like it."


LAX officials had planned to hold a large media event on the occasion of the A380's landing at the airport, hoping to use the celebration to improve the airport's image.


But the problem for the airport authority: making the additional improvements will likely force it to further raise fees for airlines, some of which have already filed legal action to lower existing fees.


Seven airlines filed a joint complaint Feb. 20 with the Department of Transportation over the airport's decision to raise terminal charges, claiming a Feb. 1 fee hike is illegal and unfair. And just last month, three other airlines filed a federal lawsuit against LAX for raising other rental fees.


Michael Boyd, an aviation expert and president of Boyd Group Inc. consultancy, said Los Angeles World Airports finds itself in this position because it does not have a coherent plan for dealing with expected growth, and not just from the A380.


"LAX is making itself something of a laughing stock. Right now it's very confused," said Boyd. "It looks like you've got amateurs trying to plan an airport's future."


Airbus executives say that LAX has made adequate improvements to handle the A380 for its first two years of flight Qantas Airways is set to begin flying the behemoth by early 2008 between Melbourne, Australia, and Los Angeles but it must make additional improvements or find itself losing its status as a worldwide transportation hub.

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