American Finally Commits, DFW’s Expansion Can Begin

There has been discussion about expanding Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport probably since the day it opened. The airport has expanded since that time, but now, a . Sure, this will add sorely-needed gates as American marches toward 1,000 daily departures. But more importantly, it will create symmetry in the airport’s terminals, giving tremendous relief to those with OCD.

When DFW was built, there was a plan to continue building semi-circular terminals both north and south of the original buildings. You can see this in the way the terminals were originally numbered. Terminal B was 2W, Terminal A was 2E, Terminal C was 3E, and Terminal E was 4E. You would have assumed that someday we would see a 1W, 1E, 3W, and 4W.

So far, all we’ve seen built (other than a few gates tagged on to existing terminals) is Terminal D (what would have been 3W previously) as well as a satellite gate building down near Terminal E. Terminal D was constructed for international operations in 2005, and that was the biggest expansion since the airport opened. The airport has also done extensive renovations on Terminals A, E, and B. Terminal C, however, remains a relic of another time.

While renovations are great, American has continued to grow and the airport is squeezed for gates. American already controls all of A, B, C, and a good chunk of D. It took a few gates in E and just this year it opened a new regional operation in that Terminal E satellite. In other words, part of Terminal D is for other international airlines while Terminal E is pretty much everyone else.

The airport has needed to either renovate or destroy Terminal C and build new gates elsewhere for some time. It’s not that the airport didn’t know this. American just couldn’t commit to a project.

At one point there was discussion about building a whole new terminal complex that was better suited for connections, but that would have been incredibly expensive. There has been talk about building a Terminal F and then knocking down C entirely. But every time these discussions progressed, American wouldn’t commit.

Now as American tries to push DFW to 1,000 daily flights and beyond, it was obvious that something needed to happen far earlier. Only now has American agreed to do something, but this is a very reactive move. This decision should have been made long ago.

So what is going to happen? We don’t know. It looks like American effectively said “ok, we want to keep at our costs at a certain level, so uh, what does that get us? Find us something good, and we’ll sign a new lease.” With that, the airport brought forward options in the $3 to $3.5 billion range, but there is nothing concrete yet.

In that range, American can get a renovation of Terminal C and at least part of a new Terminal F. The Terminal C renovation was supposed to cost at least $1 billion, so the question is, how much of a new terminal can they build for $2 to $2.5 billion? I guess we’ll find out.

This is all pending the airline coming to a long-term lease agreement with the airport which is just a matter of time. In the meantime, the airport is going to start pushing forward on design options so it can begin the long process. It’s funny, because when a project like this is announced, there’s usually some kind of rendering. But this is all we get:

If anyone is trying to glean some kernel of intel from this, don’t bother. Yes the orange box is square like Terminal D, unlike the round curves of the other terminals. That means absolutely nothing. This is simply the airport trying to put together any kind of media for distribution without have any information at all.

So what will it end up looking like? I don’t know. Didn’t we just talk about this? Stop asking. That being said, I would be surprised if the new terminal looked different than the others. American is growing DFW into a massive connecting airport, and the original terminals are not designed to make connections efficient. I have to think that Terminal F will do something to fix that.

Now, we wait. Once a lease is signed and a design is chosen, they can start doing the work. At the earliest, this could be done by 2025. That is six long years for American to operate in an airport where it’s already constrained. This decision should have been made earlier, but I suppose better late than never.

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