Filling D/FW's Terminal D With Int'l Passengers Considered Top Priority

North Texas' low international profile is one of many challenges officials face as they labor to attract new flights to foreign destinations.

An American Eagle jet takes off near D/FW's new Terminal D. The regional carrier provides service to Mexico.

Foreign carriers are already using D/FW's new Terminal D. American Airlines will move in next month.

Joe Lopano, D/FW's executive vice president of marketing, says filling Terminal D with international passengers is a "top priority."

Joe Lopano was in Shanghai five years ago, extolling the virtues of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to the chief executive of China Eastern Airlines in a bid to win new flights to the region.

"He interrupted me, and asked if the airport was in Colorado," said Lopano, the airport's executive vice president of marketing. "It shows the challenge you sometimes face in educating people about D/FW."

North Texas' low international profile, compared with cities like New York and Chicago, is one of many challenges officials face as they labor to attract new flights to foreign destinations.

The airport's international reach is also affected -- both good and bad -- by geography, local demographics, the financial condition of the airline industry, and its major tenant, American Airlines.

But airport officials say they can't afford to lose despite the obstacles.

Expanding service to foreign cities is crucial for D/FW's brand new, $1.2 billion international terminal, which opened last month. The terminal was designed to quickly process passengers traveling to and from foreign countries. Foreign carriers are using it now; American is scheduled to move in next month.

Airport officials have an ambitious vision. They have targeted dozens of cities worldwide for new service, ranging from Auckland, New Zealand, on the other side of the globe, to Monclova, Mexico, just across the border. Although many travelers in the new terminal will initially be on domestic flights, airport officials hope to eventually fill the 2 million-square-foot facility entirely with international passengers.

"It's a top priority," Lopano said.

Nonetheless, the airport clearly has some catching up to do. Although No. 3 in the world in total takeoffs and landings, D/FW lags behind many other U.S. airports in international service, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The airport in January 2005 ranked 10th in total passengers on international routes, behind smaller airports like Miami, Houston Bush and Newark Liberty, according to the latest government data.

Snaring a substantial amount of service won't be easy. Flights to many countries are governed by international treaties, with new routes added only after years of negotiations.

And although major U.S. airlines have been beefing up international service, much of that growth remains focused on the traditional gateway cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

But some progress has been made. About 5.6 million international passengers are expected to fly from D/FW this year, up nearly 10 percent from last year and ahead of pre-9-11 levels, according to airport statistics.

And in the past year, the airport has gained service to six new foreign markets: Osaka, Japan, and five cities in Mexico.

Experts say new aircraft technology, demographic changes and North Texas growth patterns could help the airport eventually realize its aspiration of becoming a true international gateway.

Lopano provided a list of 37 more cities airport officials hope to eventually serve, in nations including Mexico, China, Iceland and the United Arab Emirates.

One top priority: Convincing Spanish carrier Iberia Airlines to connect D/FW and Madrid. "We think that would be a very good market for us," he said.

But most caution that the ambitious growth plan won't come overnight.

"In the long run, I expect D/FW to catch up with some of the other big airports," said Alan Sbarra, an aviation consultant with Roach and Sbarra Airline Consulting in San Francisco. "But it will probably take some time."

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