After years of decline, Los Angeles International Airport is once again ascendant.

And at least part of the credit can be given to the massive renovation of the Tom Bradley International Terminal – even though it’s not complete.

LAX is on its way to a projected 8 percent or 9 percent rise in passenger traffic this year, which would far outpace the national average, and comes as new carriers have arrived at the airport and existing ones added flights.

Foreign tourists taking advantage of the cheap dollar is one reason traffic is up, but analysts say there is more at play: specifically, carriers jockeying for space to keep other airlines from grabbing more gates at the renovated terminal.

“The carriers play a game to discourage new entry by a competitor,” said Bob Mann, president of aviation consulting firm R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y.

In early March, Turkish Airlines announced it was launching service to LAX, its first flights to the West Coast, while Spain’s Iberia Airlines returned to Los Angeles after a 14-year absence. Meanwhile, existing international carriers such as Singapore Airlines and domestic carriers including American Airlines have been adding service.

According to Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that manages the airport, 26 flights have been added through July, while no flights were lost.

This year’s growth is even more impressive as it comes in spite of L.A.’s still sluggish economy and disruptions to travel caused by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.

Indeed, in the first half of the year, passenger volume rose 5.4 percent from last year to 29.9 million, according to LAWA. The rate of increase is exactly twice the national average.

With such a sharp rise in air travel, L.A. Inc., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects an increase in tourists of more than 10 percent from last year.

“We’re forecasting that Los Angeles will welcome more visitors in 2011 than it has in more than a decade,” said Mark Liberman, chief executive of L.A. Inc., in a statement.

Global growth

With the launch of four weekly nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Istanbul, Turkish Airlines made LAX its first West Coast destination and only its fourth in the United States. By next March, the airline expects to offer daily service.

The launch was a big deal for the airline, which celebrated the announcement on Hollywood’s Paramount Studios lot in early March. Hundreds of guests turned out to sample Turkish food and watch performances by Turkish musicians. The gala event was attended by basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, who signed on this year for a two-year endorsement gig.


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