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DFW Airport board says it won't close any terminals

Officials with Dallas/Fort Worth Airport insisted Thursday they can weather a travel industry downturn without resorting to severe measures like closing some or all of a terminal.

The airport’s board approved a $640 million budget for fiscal 2009, a year in which passenger traffic is expected to drop by 7 percent. American Airlines, the largest carrier at the airport, is slashing its schedule after Labor Day as it struggles with record fuel costs and mounting losses.

Officials acknowledge it will be a challenging time. “We’re going to take our lumps in the next year,” said Joe Lopano, the airport’s executive vice president of marketing and terminal management.

The airport’s budget, which begins Oct. 1 and is the same size as its 2008 budget, faces a $22 million shortfall despite a host of cost cutting measures.

The airport’s financial staff has tentatively planned to make up the shortfall by raising landing fees on airlines during the second half of the year, which will bring in about $12 million. They also plan to dip into the airport’s capital fund to pump $10 million into operations.

But neither of those options are particularly welcome. Raising fees would heavily impact American Airlines, which accounts for more than 80 percent of D/FW’s traffic. American, the largest employer in North Texas, is already struggling with record fuel prices, has lost nearly $1.8 billion so far this year and plans to slash thousands of jobs.

Higher landing fees could also mean higher fares for North Texas travelers, as American and other airlines pass the cost along to customers.

D/FW also has historically avoided using capital funds for operations, and has done it just once before, after Sept. 11, 2001.

On Tuesday, during a presentation to the board, Chris Poinsatte, the airline’s chief financial officer, discussed several possible alternatives, including bringing in more revenues from natural gas piping, saving money from locking in utility costs and collecting more money from interest if rates climb.

He also said closing a terminal was an option that could result in significant savings. A document presented to board members listed “discuss closing all or part of a terminal with airlines” as one cost savings option.

D/FW currently has between 35 and 40 vacant gates, nine of which are in the closed Delta Air Lines satellite terminal. Currently they are spread among the airport’s five terminals.

Poinsatte stressed that closing even a portion of a terminal would involve difficult negotiations with vendors and airports. But he said it could save as much as $21 million, and it could be timed with terminal renovations already scheduled.

Still, airport officials backed away from that idea Thursday, after being flooded with worried calls from employees, vendors and airlines after the option was reported by the Star-Telegram.

Airport spokesman Ken Capps said many people mistakenly believed the airport had already decided to close a terminal.

“The concept of closing an entire terminal isn’t under discussion,” said Jeff Fegan, the airport’s chief executive, said.

The board approved the overall size of the budget Thursday, and will approve the rates and fees charged to airlines in September.