D/FW refunds are good news for American

Airlines that use Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport probably will get a refund of more than $23 million because the airport has seen higher revenue and lower costs than originally projected.

Most of that will go to American Airlines Inc., which with American Eagle carries about five of every six passengers who go through D/FW Airport. The carrier welcomed the news of the anticipated refund.

"As it has in the past, D/FW Airport continues to do a good job of managing its budget and finding new or additional sources of revenue," American spokesman Tim Smith said. "The result is returning to the airlines any unspent funds received for landing fees and rentals."

Speaking to the airport board Thursday, airport chief financial officer Christopher A. Poinsatte said the airport should end up $48.1 million under the budget the board had originally approved for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

The board in midyear had cut landing fees to save D/FW carriers $11.9 million, and the airport probably will return an additional $23.4 million after the fiscal year ends, said Mr. Poinsatte, also an executive vice president.

The board agreed to contribute an extra $10 million to the airport staff's pension fund.

"We are $100 million underfunded there," Mr. Poinsatte said. In addition, the board set aside $2.7 million to pre-fund other post-employment benefits.

Assuming no late surprises for airport revenue, landing fees will drop to $3.75 per passenger, compared with the $4.44 per passenger originally budgeted last fall. Including terminal charges, the airlines' cost per passenger enplaned will total $6.38, down 11.5 percent from the $7.21 first projected.

Through July 31, the airport's revenue was $395.1 million, up $13.9 million, primarily through higher parking and concessions revenue. Expenses were running $10.9 million under budget at $343.3 million, with lower contract services providing the majority of the savings.

Joe Lopano, the airport's executive vice president for marketing and terminal management, said the airport handled 5,653,589 passengers in July, down 0.8 percent from the same month a year earlier.

But the number of passengers who start or end their trips at D/FW Airport climbed 5 percent to 2.2 million, he said.

American's passenger numbers were virtually flat in July, he said, even though the airline filled 89.4 percent of the seats on its D/FW flights that month.

The budget estimates don't include any royalties from natural gas wells being drilled on airport property by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Production from those wells is expected to begin soon.