When US Airways management first took over American Airlines about 5 years ago, executives didn’t seem like big fans of Dallas Fort-Worth airport. They saw it as a huge challenge from an operational standpoint.
- Terminals are set up beautifully for passengers originating in Dallas — parking garages right across from terminals which are set up in a horseshoe. If you know what terminal you’re leaving from you walk right into the airport, through security, and you’re by your gates.
- However connecting passengers move via train between terminals. There are distances to traverse moving bags. You have to move parts and mechanics all over the airport.
Airline executives have come to love DFW, because they say it’s in their top tier of profitable hubs. They are the dominant carrier by far, and have incredible scale. They’re on their way to operating 900 flights a day from the airport. And with that many flights adding a new city is easy to make profitable as a result of connecting feed from all over the world.
The future of the airport is being hashed out now. Next year the airport’s 10-year use agreement is up, and a new deal is being negotiated. That’s where the broad plan for the future of the airport gets set — what is the airport going to invest in, how much will airlines pay for the space. The biggest airlines get the biggest say. American Airlines is in the driver’s seat.
With the airport at over 70 million passengers, and the region expected to continue to grow, the airport needs to plan for future capacity. The more they invest, though, the more airlines need to pay to cover that investment.
There are Three Basic Models for the Future of DFW
At one point American Airlines notionally wanted a single large terminal complex, effectively walking away from the existing terminal structure. But that’s a non-starter given the tens of billions of dollars it would cost.
Right now the horse shoe structure has 5 terminals, A through E. Major discussions center around whether to build a new terminal F, and what sorts of renovations to do on the existing terminal C.
- Terminals A, B, C and E were considered to have been at the end of their service lives (the newest terminal D is still in great shape). A, B, and E have gotten refreshes.
- Terminal C is deteriorating and in need of significant investment. It was supposed to get that investment already as part of the airport’s TRIP or Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program which was supposed to be completed by 2017 but that was deferred over American’s willingness to invest.
The airport’s President refers to terminal C as their LaGuardia. I don’t think it’s that bad but it’s beaten up, there are leaks, and it’s dirty. (As a sidenote, I believe American Airlines is responsible for cleaning in terminal C, and contracts for it at a lower standard than the rest of the airport.)
DFW Airport Terminal C
DFW Airport Terminal C
- If they build a new terminal F by 2025, they could then shut down terminal C and effectively replace the 1970s-era building by 2030.
- Alternatively they could do piecemeal renovations, shutting down chunks of gates at a time but not gutting the entire thing. The airport’s President has said it’s a bad idea to invest $1.5 billion into the nearly 45 year old facility, with gates renovated, maybe HVAC, but you’ve still got an old building with significant ongoing maintenance issues.
Piecemeal renovation of terminal C is the best they can do without terminal F at all. American Airlines may not want to see a whole new terminal that they don’t control entirely because that sort of capacity opens up the airport to additional competition and drives up their costs. The lowest-cost, least-growth, American-centric option would be just to build additional stinger gates onto the C concourse as part of renovations.
DFW Airport Terminal C
The Current State of Negotiations
A brand new mega-terminal isn’t likely feasible due to cost. Stinger gates, and no new terminal, won’t support growth for the region and would be a mistake for the airport to agree to. It would, in a very real way, impose a cap on the region.
Even though a new terminal might allow for other airlines to compete with American Airlines, growth in the region and at the airport still benefits the largest carrier there. Even though nearly two-thirds of traffic at Dallas Fort-Worth is connecting, growth in the region supports demand for American Airlines flights. American has supported multi-billion dollar investments at their Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, and even low cost Charlotte hubs. They shouldn’t stand in the way of growth at their largest hub.
The current Express South Parking space would permit building a new terminal F and connecting it to the Skylink train system. They don’t need to make changes to the airfield. The airport is blessed with plenty of land, indeed DFW’s footprint is larger than Manhattan.
Adding a new terminal that matches the model of the rest of the airport makes sense to me, though that may not be the state of current negotiations. Apparently there’s currently discussion of how to build a terminal F on the cheap with a smaller footprint, no parking, and international-capable gates but no immigration and customs facility.
Terminal F could be built with design standards that allow more airplanes to park in a smaller space. For example, at the brand new airport in Istanbul, Turkey, the terminals stick out like fingers, making it possible for planes to park on both sides of each terminal pier.
That’s a contrast to the layout at DFW, where planes can only park on one side of each terminal.
…Also, although the talks about construction of DFW’s Terminal F are still preliminary, it’s possible the new terminal could be built without a parking garage, officials said.
“If we can add gates without a lot of the things you typically need for a terminal, that might be really helpful,” said Tim Skipworth, American Airlines vice president of airport affairs and facilities.
…Terminal F also could include some international gates. But, he said, rather than building a new U.S. Customs area to process travelers arriving from other countries, there may be a way to connect the Terminal F international gates to the Customs processing center that’s already in Terminal D.
It sounds strange to hear the airport’s chairman and the airport’s President talking about these options are viable, rather than driving for a full new terminal to support the airport’s long term vision. I interpret their enthusiasm for what seems like ‘new terminal light’ in the context of negotiations with American Airlines over the airport’s major tenant’s willingness to go along with a new terminal at all.
Not having a new terminal as part of the airport’s 10 year plan would be a disaster for a region that’s been one of the fastest growing in the United States. As a result a scaled back terminal F seems better than no terminal F at all. That, and what kind of support terminal C will get, are the live questions that will be settled in the coming months as a new use agreement for the airport sets the agenda there for the next decade. And in turn it will help determine whether the Metroplex region itself can continue to grow.