DFW ATADS data, 1991-2014:
Scrollable aerial view at bing.com. (Click to open in a new window).
Airport Narrative (Overview & History)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the third busiest airport in the world (in terms of airport operations), behind only Atlanta [KATL] and Chicago O’Hare [KORD]. The city of Dallas proposed a joint airport with Fort Worth, as early as 1927, but the offer was declined, and the two cities each created their own airports: Dallas (Love Field), and Fort Worth (Meacham Field).
A few years after the stock market crash that started the Great Depression, the Federal government began to promote aviation and airports to create jobs and grow the economy. This promotion accelerated rapidly in the late 1930’s. Then, in 1940, the Civil Aeronautics Administration earmarked $1.9 million for the construction of a Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport. Two major airlines (both American and Braniff) supported the idea, but the two cities again failed to agree, and the project was abandoned. In 1961, FAA refused to fund airports in BOTH Dallas and Fort Worth, and besides, Love Field was becoming boxed in by other development. So, more pressure was put upon the two cities to forge an agreement. By the mid-1960’s Love Field was handling 49% of Texas flights, while Meacham had roughly 1%. In 1964, under the administration of notable and powerful Texan Lyndon Johnson, FAA threatened that if the two cities could not resolve their differences, FAA would plan the new airport without them. An agreement was finally struck, and construction began in 1969. The new airport opened in January 1974.
Texas-style power politics continued. In 1979, the Wright Amendment was passed by Congress. It turns out that, when DFW opened in 1974, all airlines operating at Love Field relocated – except Southwest Airlines. Love Field was effectively gutted, and concourses were decommissioned; the lone exception was Southwest, which had not been part of the agreement that formed DFW. The matter went to the courts, and Southwest’s position was upheld by the law. The powers who had invested in the DFW project could not afford to allow little Southwest to undermine the growth of DFW, so Congress was brought in to create new laws. The Wright Amendment (sponsored by Texas congressman Jim Wright) declared that operators out of Love Field could only fly direct flights to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. Longer direct flights were allowed, but only using aircraft seating no more than 56 passengers (well below the 130+ seats in the Southwest fleet). Many amendments and repeal efforts followed, and the latest repeal compromise was struck in 2006.
Such are the politics of aviation….
American is the dominant airline at DFW. They established their first major hub at DFW in 1981. Braniff had the largest presence when DFW opened in 1974 (an entire Terminal), but they went bankrupt and ceased operating in 1982. Now, with the recent USAirways-American merger, DFW will intensify as the southern Super-Hub for this new mega-airline, possibly growing traffic at the expense of dozens of other airports.
Just like American, Delta formed a hub at DFW but, two decades later, an airline bankruptcy ended that. In 2005, Delta eliminated all commuter feeders and retained only trunk flights to other Delta hubs. The loss of Delta’s traffic produced empty gates, which in turn spurred an effort to recruit Southwest to begin flying at DFW. Those efforts were for naught; Southwest declined, and continues to fly out of Love Field.
The airport sits on 17,207 acres and has no based aircraft. This is the second largest airport in the U.S.; Denver [KDEN] is number one at 33,531 acres. There are five terminals and 161 gates. The five parallel north-south runways, and two additional diagonal runways, make for enormous airport capacity, which is presently substantially underutilized.
ATC services, are provided 24/7 by FAA controllers, and the airport averages 1,849 operations per day (38 takeoffs per hour). As shown in the ATADS Table above, traffic peaked in 1997, but has since declined by 27%. The largest single-year decline occurred in 2005, coincident with the not-quite-total departure of Delta.