DFW AIRPORT, TX — Get to know the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport and the people who run it, and one gets the sense that this airport is something different. It’s vast acreage in a sea of suburbia midway between the two cities is one distinction; in numerous interviews over the years, the overriding message is that this is an airport that is run like a business.
At the helm since 1994 is Jeff Fegan, who has experienced the transformation of the authority that runs it, the airfield itself, and its continuing connection to the global arena as one of the world’s leading airports.
DFW offers some 1,750 flights per day and serves some 57 million passengers a year. It provides non-stop service to 145 domestic and 47 international destinations worldwide, and ranks in the top five for customer service among large airports globally. It has added 22 new destinations in the past year.
Fegan has served as the chair of Airports Council International-North America and is actively engaged in taking his airport to a new international level, per his board’s direction. He shared his thoughts recently with airport business on the airport, the industry, air service development, and other topics. Edited excerpts of that discussion follow ...
airport business: You came into this position as a planner. What are your thoughts on the role of planning and how it’s changed through the years?
Fegan: I was hired in December 1984 as a chief planner. I had worked in the consulting business before that; I have a masters in city planning. Most of what planning is all about is a future orientation for problem-solving and trying to solve physical and transportation problems.
When I came to DFW what I saw was 18,000 acres of land; at the time we had five runways, we have seven today. The opportunity and the future — if you’re a doctor, you want to work at the Mayo Clinic. If you’re an airport planner, you want to work at DFW airport. It is absolutely the best opportunity to plan and actually implement what you plan of any place on earth. And we did.
The amount of activity I’ve been involved with since 1984 measures in the billions. We did the $2.8 billion program when we did Terminal D and the people mover; and we’re involved in a $1.9 billion program today. Between all that we spent anywhere from $100 million to $300 million a year in capital improvements. We built the taxiway system out; extended runways; got UPS to put their regional hub here; and are watching the whole west side of the airport develop from a cargo standpoint.
In 1994 I became CEO but was still a planner at heart. I’m still thinking about the next project, the next development that we need to stay ahead of the demand curve here at DFW.
If you have a planning orientation and you’re the CEO of an airport, it’s the right place to be.
ab: How is technology affecting the planning process?
Fegan: I can remember the day when we didn’t have an IT department. Right now we have some 130 systems that the IT department is responsible for — everything from the security and camera systems to the parking control system to the systems we use to run our financials and every aspect of the business, really.
In Terminal A, as we go through the refurbishment program, we’re loading up this terminal with technology and backbone infrastructure to be able to accommodate anything that comes our way, be it new security screen systems at the checkpoints; requirements for the airlines to have remote check-in; advertisements on the walls. Some 35 percent of our advertising space will be digital in the new terminal building. There’s the technology of communicating with the public –— social media.
We had a discussion today about patenting some of this stuff because it’s so leading edge.
ab: Having met with DFW officials through the years and heard them at conferences, one impression they leave is one heavy on business orientation. As airport groups continue to lobby Washington to be allowed to operate more as independent businesses, does DFW potentially offer one model to follow?