Two years from now, if you fly out of LAX, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
There’s a chance you’ll be able to whiz through certain security checkpoints or gates directly onto the plane without a boarding pass, thanks to facial recognition technology. On your return, you could be walking out with your check-in bags in no time since a new system will be able to sort thousands of bags every hour.
Welcome to MSC, or the Midfield Satellite Concourse.
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This $1.6 billion project under construction at the Los Angeles Airport will add 12 new gates to increase flexible scheduling for departure and arrival times, expand international flights, and most importantly, improve overall passenger experience. The 750,000-square-foot concourse will be connected to the main Tom Bradley International Terminal via a 1,000 feet underground pedestrian tunnel with moving walkways and accessible by bus.
While the new concourse will mostly handle international travelers, with two of its gates equipped with handling jumbo double-decker planes like the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8, it also will administer domestic flights.
Given the airport’s limited space, it also likely will be “the last time that the Los Angeles Airport will really develop an empty space of land,” according to Greg Campbell, chief airports engineer of Los Angeles Airport, though the airport will be able to add additional gates to the existing concourse in the future.
“We’re developing, to a degree, a brand new terminal,” Campbell said. “You don’t call it a terminal because you can’t physically get to it from the sidewalk, so we call it a concourse since it is landlocked in the airfield. But it’s got all the facilities in it that accommodate travel.”
The new concourse was designed with sustainability in mind; it has a cool roof with Green Tier 1 and LEED Silver green certifications to help with energy and water conservation. The building will contain retail and concessions, airline lounges, nursing station and a service-animal area, with the interior inspired by the neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
A state-of-the-art baggage inspection system will be installed to sort more than 6,000 bags per hour, as will facial recognition technology to scan passengers’ faces to get them onto a plane without a boarding pass (though it is still only being piloted at three international gates and at one TSA checkpoint).
Construction began in April 2017, and the project is expected to be complete by 2020.
Greg Campbell, 52
Chief Airports Engineer
Los Angeles World Airports
The single most unique thing about this project is that … this is likely the last time that the Los Angeles airport will really develop an empty space of land. We had some cargo facilities that were vacated out, and we’ve got a swath of land between taxiways that’s perfectly utilizable for a facility space. So we’re developing, to a degree, a brand new terminal. You don’t call it a terminal because you can’t physically get to it from the sidewalk.
We have our seven terminals connected by a loop road to the east end of the airport, and we also have a couple international processing facilities. When we get to the point where we have so much traffic that there aren’t enough gates available, we have outboard facilities where planes park at and folks can be unloaded. But the problem with it is that you have to unload passengers and get them on a bus, and then drive across the airfield to get to the terminal. For some of us, after a 12 to 17-hour journey, the last thing you probably want to do is get off an aircraft and then stand on a bus and be carted across the airfield. So I guess (this new concourse) allows us to re-envision that process and [gives us] the ability to have more gates.
[The design] is going to be a very complementary to Bradley. They‘ll have a very similar look and feel. MSC is designed purposefully not to overshadow Bradley.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bradley West, but it’s got a scalloped roof, that looks like waves. When you look at Bradley West from the backside, where my office is — and I’ve got a view of it — it’s like being in the ocean looking at waves crashing. The idea was keeping that theme. So the roof on the MSC is kind of a rolling wave that’s building up to go crash on the Bradley West ridge.
David Kim, 38
Los Angeles World Airports
I came to LAX in 2008, did the first renovation. Then I was on the Tom Bradley expansion (the main terminal) with the 15 new gates. Then I was on the second renovation of Bradley and involved up until 2015 or 2016.
Until 2010 when Bradley first started, there wasn’t much capital improvement projects on the LAX campus at all. Since that point on, every terminal started being renovated rather than expanded. The public started seeing more of it. We kept the runways up, pushing out the runway east and south and north and west. The public didn’t really know about that. But this project is really out there in the public eye, saying this is what we’re changing for you.
What you see right now is the north [part] of the concourse’s steel has been completed and the main structural frame of the north concourse has been completed. The curtain wall, the interior framing, the glass and the roof is ongoing now.
A cool roof is actually a code requirement for all buildings – it needs to reflect a certain amount of light instead of absorb it. In the same way that Tom Bradley (the main terminal) was outfitted to receive recycled water in the future, this building too has piping put in so when recycled water from LADWP [the Department of Water and Power] becomes available, we’ll be able to hook it and switch over immediately.
We’re applying what is called the LA code, a Tier 1 level green build, and also going for LEED Silver to take advantage of two different programs to create a sustainable building. I work on behalf of Los Angeles Airports and my company is contracted through Los Angeles World Airports.
The designers for the interiors – which I am excited to see – captured something which they’re calling neighborhoods. In the design, they’ve captured different neighborhoods across Los Angeles, certain areas like downtown, out to the ocean toward the north. I think they really set up a powerful metaphor that ties into the city and they fulfill the expansion project.
This interview has been edited and condensed.