At a somber meeting Thursday, the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport board elected Fort Worth resident Lillie Biggins as board chairwoman, replacing chairman Robert Hsueh, who died on Sunday.
Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, previously led the airport board from 2008 to 2009. Board members Sam Coats and Francisco Hernandez were elected vice-chairman and secretary, respectively.
The airport placed white flowers at Hsueh’s chair and a wreath at his parking space outside the headquarters building.
“I found that I kept drifting to that empty seat over there because Robert was so glad to be on this board and be able to impart all of his great ideas into how we operate here to make it the best airport,” Biggins said.
As DFW Airport board chairwoman, Biggins said she will continue to focus on improving the customer experience for international passengers. In June, American Airlines will launch nonstop service to Shanghai and Hong Kong, marking the first direct flights to China from DFW.
The airport on Monday plans to unveil its airport passport control system, which includes 30 kiosks aimed at reducing wait times for U.S. and Canadian citizens going through customs at DFW upon arrival. DFW said the system can process up to 30 arriving travelers simultaneously. Last summer, wait times at customs at D/FW sometimes exceeded three hours during peak periods.
Ken Buchanan, the airport’s executive vice president of revenue management, told the board the airport has had a 39 percent increase in international passengers since 2009, but there has been no increase in customs officers during that time. The new system should help alleviate delays in customs, he said.
The airport also showed off its new DART station, which is nearing completion. Airport CEO Sean Donohue said international passengers are used to having rail service connecting an airport to downtown.
While construction will be completed this month, DART President Gary Thomas said it will take several months for trains to start running to D/FW. Testing on the Orange Line will begin in a few weeks, and although DART is scheduled to begin service in December, it could start as early as this fall.
“When you look at airport connections around the United States, you get a lot of your [rail] customers [who] are actually employees, but when you go around the world, though, you see not only the employees but the travelers” using the rail system, Thomas said. “It is our opportunity to make sure everyone is aware of the new DART line.”
Separately, the board was also briefed on the impact of December’s ice storm. The airport lost about $1.1 million in revenues during the storm and incurred $2 million in operational costs to mitigate the impact of the storm. It will also spend an another $700,000 on equipment and de-icing supplies that were depleted early in the winter travel season.
In December, airlines canceled 4,483 flights because of bad weather, including 4,246 flights canceled by American Airlines and US Airways, said Luis Perez, vice president of air service development.
The airport served 4.8 million passengers in December, a decrease of 0.5 percent compared with December 2012. The drop was attributed mostly to the canceled flights, Perez said.