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DFW Airport delays renovations at Terminal C as American mulls needs

Travelers checking at the American Airlines ticket counter in Terminal C at DFW Airport.
Travelers checking at the American Airlines ticket counter in Terminal C at DFW Airport. Star-Telegram

Smooth terrazzo floors, boutique shopping at Ertekin and Swarovski and fine dining at Lorena Garcia Tapas y Cocina greet passengers who are flying in and out of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s Terminal A.

But for those who are traveling through Terminal C, the constant noise of luggage rolling over tile floors, fast food restaurants and fewer retail stores give passengers an outdated experience in a part of the airport that hasn’t been renovated since it opened in 1974.

“Terminal C certainly could use an upgrade and it’s getting long in the tooth,” said Bernard Weinstein, an economist at Southern Methodist University who often travels out of DFW Airport.

Although the airport had planned to renovate Terminal C as part of its multi-billion dollar terminal renewal project that was originally supposed to be completed in 2018, the fate of Terminal C is in limbo. American Airlines, the only airline operating out of Terminal C, asked in 2014 to delay construction work on it until all of the renovations at Terminal A were completed because they needed the gate space.

Now that Terminal A completely reopened in January, American said it needs more time to evaluate its future needs at DFW, including the possibility of building a sixth terminal, Terminal F.

“Frankly, we’re kind of a new airline since the TRIP project started,” said Tim Skipworth, American’s Vice President of Airport Affairs. “We have to think about what’s going to happen on the F site and what we and the airport agree should be built on the F site and then roll that all together.”

Options include keeping Terminal C open while they build Terminal F and then tearing down C if the airport does not need the extra gate space. Or the airport could decide to renovate Terminal C after F is open so American and other airlines would not need to give up gates during construction like they did while Terminals A, B and E underwent renovations.

DFW Airport’s chief executive Sean Donohue said he has been talking with American about a 20- to 40-year master plan for the airport over the past 18 months. Without any decisions yet, Donohue said it is unknown if Terminal C will be done by its currently scheduled 2020 completion date.

“Are we going to tear [Terminal] C down to the studs and rebuild it right now? No, we’re not, because we want to get the master plan discussions done first,” Donohue said in an interview.

Terminal E’s renovations are expected to be completed this summer with work at Terminal B expected to be done by early 2018.

As they plan for the next few decades, airport and airline executives will need to consider how quickly the North Texas region will grow. DFW Airport already projects it will serve over 70 million passengers annually by 2020. And with the Metroplex’s central location in the U.S., more companies are relocating to the area, bringing more employees with them.

Even though airlines are using larger planes that can fit more passengers, Weinstein believes DFW will need another terminal at some point.

“It’s hard to predict the future of the airline industry. It’s not hard to predict the future of DFW, which will have 15 million residents” in a couple of decades, Weinstein said. “If you’re going to have another 40 to 50 percent population growth in 20 years, that’s not going to be the solution. You’re going to need more gates.”

Terminals, however, require a lot of money. Terminal D, which was completed in 2005, cost $1.7 billion. Renovations are also costly, as Terminal A’s remodeling bill reached almost $1 billion.

Suzanne Carter, a professor of professional practice in strategy at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business, said the airport may find it is more impactful to move forward with a new terminal as opposed to a remodel project.

“A long-term capital project like this can be exceptionally expensive, so if there were greater concerns that it might not be necessary at this stage, they could scale back the project,” Carter said. “It might even be cheaper to start from scratch.”

Airline consultant Mike Boyd said there is no pressing need to get Terminal C renovated as American is not planning to expand domestically at DFW this year.

“Unless Terminal C is at the brink of collapsing, it might be better to leave it alone, build a new terminal and then decide what you want to do,” Boyd said. “The conundrum is it takes years to build a terminal and you have to match the trajectory of traffic demand with your construction plan.”

American is undertaking other major capital projects including a new headquarters in Fort Worth, adding gates in Los Angeles and Chicago as well as terminal renovations at New York’s LaGuardia airport. With construction projects at its other major hub airports, American may not want to spend additional funds on Terminal C or Terminal F at this time.

Nevertheless, American and airport executives realize that the 1970s-built Terminal C needs to be freshened up, even if that means only a modest facelift such as adding new concessionaires or remodeling restrooms.

“We would probably start renovating C before we could build F because if you look at C now, compared to A and even the renovated section of B, it just needs some work for customer service purposes,” Skipworth said.

The question remains how much money the airport, and American, want to spend on remodeling Terminal C if those renovations will be redone in another 8 to 10 years.

“We both recognize that when we come to agreement on the future master plan, we are going to have to put some money into C. It’s not that we’re not going to do anything with C, it’s what extent and how much is the investment in C,” Donohue said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk