Southwest champions Love Field revamp

Washington DC
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As Dallas Love Field readies for the repeal of nonstop flight restrictions in 2014, the airport will undergo a $519 million construction project spurred by primary tenant Southwest Airlines.

The low-cost carrier will spend $75 million on the initial phase of plans approved by the Dallas City Council to demolish and replace three concourses with a singular, T-shaped concourse. Love Field enplanements are expected to nearly double to 7.9 million within roughly a decade of the repeal of the Wright Amendment.

"Love Field is showing its age," Southwest VP of properties Bob Montgomery says of the facilities built in the 1950s. "The terminal facilities there are older than I am. They needed to be substantially upgraded. The cost to paint and patch wasn't significantly different than new construction."

Montgomery says Southwest will be repaid for its investment in "various ways".

Roughly $150 million of new terminal construction costs will be covered by $3 passenger facility charges (PFC) and funding from the federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP). About $113 million of the project is AIP eligible, but Montgomery says, "I don't believe we will be able to secure the full amount of AIP funding."

Parking fees, landing fees and carrier rents will also cover costs and the airport could issue bonds to support construction.

Demolition of the north concourse will begin by June when Southwest plans to move cargo, ground support, maintenance functions and provisioning from that concourse into a general-use building currently under construction, says Terry Mitchell, assistant director of aviation for the city of Dallas. Tear-down dates have not been set for east and west concourses.

Construction of the new concourse is unlikely to begin until 2010, notes Dan Weber, director of aviation for the city of Dallas.

Use of the new concourses is expected to start in 2011 and all operations will be consolidated in the new facility in 2013, he says.

The new concourse will open as the airport and airlines ready for the complete lifting of the Wright Amendment on 13 October 2014. Introduced in the 1970s to protect the then newly-built Dallas/ Forth Worth International airport from competition, the amendment now limits nonstop flights to within Texas and to Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Love Field had roughly 4.28 million enplanements in calendar 2008, but that figure is expected to reach 5.9 million within the first year of the repeal, with a gradual increase to 7.9 million in 2025, Mitchell says.

In conjunction with airlines offering new domestic service, Mitchell says he expects airlines to upgauge aircraft.

The airport's 20 gates are designed for aircraft as large as Boeing 737-900, he says, but carriers such as American Airlines and Continental Airlines currently serve the airport with regional jets.

"With nonstop capability in 2014, we could reasonably expect them to convert to a larger aircraft and potentially increase [the] number of turns at their gates," he says.