D/FW's Terminal D Plan Saved Months, Millions

Terminal D was built during the most volatile time in aviation history. Under its graceful, glassy skin, it's a steel-reinforced behemoth, augmented with almost $80 million in security features.


Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is expected to serve its first passengers next month.

Terminal D was built during the most volatile time in aviation history. Under its graceful, glassy skin, it's a steel-reinforced behemoth, augmented with almost $80 million in security features.

It was constructed as Dallas/Fort Worth Airport operated amid anxiety over terrorism, rising security requirements, war, airlines' near-bankruptcies and rising fuel prices.

The largest construction job in Texas and one of the world's busiest airport operations went on side by side, simultaneously.

But beneath its wing-shaped, stainless steel roof, Terminal D is not the same port for American Eagle regional jets first thought up in 1999.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief put it best last week: "With this terminal, it's truly what you don't see."

Through the turmoil the $1.174 billion Terminal D project stayed on budget, and pretty much on time, even as designs turned into redesigns, then redesigns of redesigns, particularly after 9-11. But it was always going to be expensive, even from the start.

On Feb. 4, 1999, staff members told the D/FW Airport Board that the expansion program -- two terminals, a people mover and a runway extension -- would cost $2.2 billion. Terminal D would be the 30-gate home of American Eagle, to accommodate the shift from propeller aircraft to regional jets. Terminal F would be the new home of international carriers and charter flights, and would include customs processing.

At the time, the plan included the construction of an eighth runway in Grapevine -- a project later postponed indefinitely as flight levels decreased. (Terminal F became unnecessary after Delta Air Lines dramatically decreased its service, leaving Terminal E mostly empty.)

Even then, D/FW Executive Director Jeff Fegan and other executives hoped to break out of the regional airport mold, to exploit what they believed would be the fastest-growing segment of aviation: international travel.

D/FW already had enough airfield capacity and room to increase cargo, retail and other non-aviation revenue on its 18,000 acres. Longer runways would handle longer flights in bigger planes. But to really make it happen, the outdated terminals at the airport's heart would have to be augmented.

"We really wanted the architects to have conversations with men and women who were kind of visionaries," said Kevin Cox, D/FW chief operating officer. "It was eight or nine people we had for lunch -- one was Raymond Nasher. And we asked them to describe in so many words what they saw for an international terminal."

Three months later at the May 1999 board retreat, the plan was still hovering around $2.2 billion, but with an asterisk.

In a presentation called "international terminal project," staff members presented the idea of making Terminal D a world-class gateway. All international travel would be consolidated there. The terminal would have separate arrival and departure levels, a centralized federal inspection facility, people-mover stations and a guideway.

The 26-gate terminal had to be twice as big as a regular domestic terminal to accommodate customs and immigration services and a parking garage with thousands of spaces. It would cost between $850 million and $1 billion to design and build. On page 13 of the "Investing in the Future" presentation, two artists' renderings showed the sleek, glassy, squared-semicircle outline of the future terminal. The picture then matches the reality today.

"It is right in form with the original design," Cox said.

By luck or by foresight, D/FW officials decided to fast-track the construction that started in August 2000. The plan was a cost-saving but riskier strategy in which design and construction were performed simultaneously. It's very likely the smartest decision they made on the $2.7 billion airport expansion program.

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