Sky Talk

DFW Airport facing up to $10 billion in work on aging runways, facilities

DFW Airport may need $5 billion to $10 billion in work to rehabilitate runways, taxiways and other infrastructure.
DFW Airport may need $5 billion to $10 billion in work to rehabilitate runways, taxiways and other infrastructure. Star-Telegram

After spending billions to renovate three aging terminals, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is now turning its attention to runways, taxiways and other parts of the airfield that need an expensive facelift.

DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue recently told a congressional committee that the airport, which opened in 1974, faces $5 billion to $10 billion in new capital infrastructure projects.

“We have four runways that are 40 years old. We have roadways and bridges that are 40 years old,” Donohue said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “When you look at our airfield needs, that’s several billion right there.”

While the airfield is still safe by government standards, airport executives know that the concrete and pavement of its runways and taxiways are reaching the end of their expected lifespan. Earlier this year, the airport’s staff began testing airfield pavement to determine how many layers of runway will need to be rebuilt.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the airport board hasn’t yet received a full presentation on which runways and infrastructure improvements need to be done first. But she said she supports committing the money to make needed improvements.

“You don’t want infrastructure that’s crumbling and not going to be up to the quality you expect from this airport,” said Price, noting that DFW was recently awarded the best large airport in North America for customer service in 2016.

The Airports Council International says U.S. airports have close to $100 billion in infrastructure projects scheduled for the next five years. The projects, at both large and small airports, include updating terminals, rehabilitating runways and improving roads and parking garages.

Significant and expensive projects are currently scheduled at airports in Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and Minneapolis. At Los Angeles International Airport, about $10 billion in infrastructure work will be needed in the next five years.

“The longer we delay, America’s airports will fall behind and our infrastructure needs become more expensive to fix,” said Kevin Burke, chief executive officer at AIC North America.

The industry group, along with DFW Airport, supports a bill introduced in Congress last week that would increase the maximum passenger facility charge that airports can add to airline tickets to fund capital projects. The fee has been capped at $4.50 per flight since 2000.

“PFCs are not going to pay for everything,” Donohue said, noting that airport capital improvement bonds are typically paid off by airlines through landing fees and terminal rents. “There’s got to be several different aspects of funding.”

DFW Airport currently has about $6 billion in debt from bonds sold to construct Terminal D, a new rental car center and to renovate Terminals A, B and E. It will pay about $430 million this fiscal year in debt payments.

“We will have to continue to look at the debt level on [infrastructure projects] and there’s potential talk about an additional terminal here in partnership with American Airlines and we’ll have to look at how we structure the financing and debt on all of that,” Price said.

American and the airport have yet to decide on whether to build a sixth terminal, although both sides are discussing a master plan for the airport to assess needs for the next few decades. Renovation work on Terminal C has been put off until decisions are made.

A new terminal could cost several billion dollars, depending on its size and where it is located at DFW. Terminal D, which was completed in 2005, cost more than $1.7 billion to construct.

With over 170 lane miles of roads and 240,000 linear feet of runway and taxiway pavement, the airport needs to start planning now to rehabilitate its infrastructure before bridges or concrete start failing, said Khaled Naja, DFW’s executive vice president of infrastructure and development.

“When you start putting these metrics together, it’s a lot of concrete. It’s a lot of infrastructure. It’s a lot of drainage. It’s a lot of pavement. It’s a lot of everything,” Naja said. “It’s a plethora of infrastructure that is over 40 years old that requires, and we anticipate, needs attention.”

Rehabilitating a runway is also very costly, requiring communications/navigational lights and electrical systems that connect with control towers need to be installed as well. New York’s JFK Airport spent $376 million to reconstruct and expand a runway to 14,000 feet in 2010 and then another $292 million on an 11,000-foot runway in 2015. DFW Airport’s four main runways are about 13,400 feet long each.

And with more than 1,800 flights a day, DFW can only shut down one runway at a time to perform the renovations. The first runway that the airport is considering for rehabilitation is 17C, which is one of its arrival runways. DFW has seven runways, with four primarily used for arrivals and three for departures.

Arrival runways tend to have a shorter lifespan than others since the concrete in the middle section gets impacted by tens of thousands of pounds each time an aircraft lands, said Nate Smith, the airport’s vice president of design, code and construction. Smith said the airport hopes to start working on runway 17C next year.

“We’re looking to bring the runway to the best possible state, within the shortest duration, with the least cost, in the most expeditious manner,” Smith said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

DFW Airport infrastructure

▪ 170 lane miles of roadway

▪ 266 road bridges

▪ 80,000 linear feet of runway concrete pavement

▪ 160,000 linear feet of supporting taxiways pavement

Source: DFW Airport