Love Field "Wright-Sizes" With New Terminal

Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
September
2014

October is a monumental month for Dallas Love Field (DAL). Officials expect the airport's sweeping modernization initiative to be substantially complete by the first of the month; and on the 13th, the Wright Amendment will officially expire, ending more than three decades of federal restrictions on DAL's outbound traffic. The two milestones are closely intertwined, because planners predicated airport improvements on traffic increases expected after the Wright Amendment expires.

Budgeted at $519 million, the Love Field Modernization Program may come in closer to $500 million, reports Mark Duebner, DAL's director of aviation. In total, the program encompasses nearly 900,000 square feet of terminal space - 637,000 square feet of new construction and 255,000 square feet of renovated areas. Key elements include a new ticketing hall and security checkpoint, a 20-gate concourse, new and expanded concessions space, and a new baggage handling system and baggage claim hall. Enabling projects, including roadway enhancements, fuel system improvements and $70 million of apron pavement work, are also part of the project.

The city of Dallas, which owns and operates DAL, and Southwest Airlines, the airport's dominant carrier, joined forces to transform the airport into a "convenient and modern facility." With some officials expecting enplanements to increase by 50% after the Wright Amendment expires, city, airline and airport executives wanted to be prepared. Southwest Airlines has in fact already announced plans to begin new nonstop service from DAL to Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., beginning mid-October.

Last year, the airport logged 4.2 million enplanements; once complete, the newly improved terminal will be configured to handle upwards of 7 million passengers per year.

factsfigures
Project: Modernization Program
Location: Dallas Love Field
Budget: $519 million
Projected Cost: $500
Owner: City of Dallas
Project Manager: Southwest Airlines
Lead Architect & Designer: Corgan
Construction Manager: Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
Program Manager: AvAirPros
Apron Designer: Huitt-Zollars
Prime Contractor for Apron: Munilla Construction Mgt.
Boarding Bridges: JBT AeroTech
Concessions: AirStar; Dickey's BBQ; The Grove; HMS Host; Hudson Group; POP Four Love Field; Puente Ventures


The End of an Era

The Wright Amendment is a federal law that originally limited nonstop flights from DAL to airports in Texas and four nearby states; subsequent modification then expanded the allowed area to eight states. All other markets are legally off-limits - but not for long. When the final provisions of the amendment expire in mid-October, carriers operating out of DAL will be able to fly to any U.S. market.  

Congress passed the Wright Amendment in 1979 to protect the commercial interests of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), which was built in 1974 to support traffic projected to surpass DAL's capacity.

Before DFW opened, DAL was the airport in Dallas. It was also the original home and departure city of Southwest Airlines, notes Bob Montgomery, the carrier's vice president of Airport Affairs. Over the years, the airline grew, but because of the Wright Amendment, customers flying from DAL only had access to a five-state area, unless they "jumped through hoops", notes Montgomery. Some chose to land at an intermediate airport within the allowable region, claim their bags, check in again, re-check their bags and clear security, again.

With security changes implemented after 9/11, the workaround some referred to as the "Southwest Shuffle" became even more cumbersome and even penal, notes Montgomery.

In 2006, Southwest "really began to push" for change, Duebner recalls. "A number of metro areas the size of Dallas or even smaller could have two airports and both continue to be successful," he relates.

Montgomery describes Southwest's change of posture in more marketing-friendly terms: "We took the position that 'Wright is Wrong,' and launched a campaign to 'Free Love Field'."

Eventually, the law was repealed in 2006, but some of its restrictions remained in place until October 13, 2014. Long hailed as "anti-competition," the Wright Amendment is scheduled to fully expire on Oct. 13, 2014, following an agreement reached by DFW, Southwest Airlines (which is headquartered in Dallas and operates its main hub at DAL), American Airlines (headquartered in Fort Worth/hub at DFW) and the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Under the "Five Party Agreement," as it became known, Southwest was allowed to thru-ticket immediately, and airlines would be allowed to fly nonstop from DAL beginning Oct. 13. A new restriction, limiting DAL to 20 gates, was also added. At the time, the airport had 32.

According to Duebner, the Five Party Agreement also included a great deal of input from a sixth part: airport neighbors. Because of DAL's proximity to downtown Dallas, it is surrounded by high-value residential real estate with a "very active citizenry," he explains. Homeowners concerned about vehicle traffic and aircraft noise made their opinions known.

Redefining Roles

With the end of the Wright Amendment close at hand, DAL's current terminal, built in 1958, desperately needed improvements, notes Duebner. The facility had only received sporadic cosmetic improvements throughout the years, and it was a dated, energy-inefficient terminal, he remarks.

"In 2014, we would have this new opportunity to have nonstop flights from Love, and we really needed a new facility that was modern, efficient and would really showcase the airport as a front door to Dallas," Duebner explains.

Southwest, which represents fully 96% of DAL's traffic, also recognized the need for a new terminal. By the same token, the key airline also wanted to ensure that any improvements were built cost-effectively and would create a pleasant experience for its passengers. 

Under the terms of the Five Party Agreement, the city was not allowed to spend more than $250 million on airport improvements. "When we sat back after all the dust had settled and tried to figure out what customers want, what they need - the size of the project was much bigger than $250 million," Montgomery recalls. As a result, Southwest agreed to a larger capital project if it could control the project's schedule and budget. Southwest subsequently became an agent of the city and assumed management responsibilities for improvements at DAL.

The city created a local government corporation, which issued the debt that was used to finance the modernization project. Southwest pledged its corporate credit as the backstop on the debt, making the airline responsible for the debt service - an act of "true partnership," is how Duebner describes it.  Additionally, the city executed a revenue credit agreement that allows it to collect fees and revenues necessary to make the debt service payment, and then transfers those funds to Southwest to make the payment.

"That way, Southwest was allowed to manage the project, essentially, for the city," explains Duebner.

A steering committee, comprised of Duebner and Montgomery, ensures joint decision-making power. "We both had motivation to agree, so we found ways to work everything out," Montgomery relates. "We didn't have large committees that we had to deal with; we were just able to make quick decisions. A construction project demands quick decisions, so we couldn't create something too bureaucratic."

Project payments are signed off by both the city and Southwest. And although Southwest manages the project and holds the contracts, the city has remained active in the programming, planning and construction activities, Duebner reports.

"The city and Southwest were partners all the way through, including the decision making," he elaborates. "You don't just have an airline building a terminal, which is then handed over to the city to maintain; and it's not just the city building the project without regard to cost and what that would translate to in rates and changes. We're in this together - from beginning to end."

The city of Dallas estimates that its partnership with Southwest, and the attendant flexibility the airline has as a private entity, saved approximately two years of construction time and about 50% in overall project cost. "All of our governments have much more cumbersome procurement rules than does the private sector," Montgomery explains. "Through public-private partnerships, we can achieve the best of all worlds."

Rebuilding Love Field

Corgan, lead architect and designer for the project, developed a variety of strategies for DAL. Options ranged from fixing the existing building's problems with a "bare bones level of investment" to building an ideal facility that meets the most current industry needs, says Corgan principal Jonathan Massey.

In the end, building new rather than renovating made the most sense - financially and functionally, explains Duebner.

Southwest wanted a functional building that "wasn't over-designed," Massey recalls. Toward that end, the design team focused on "getting everything sized appropriately."

Duebner describes the result as a good, compact design that is comfortable, without being ostentatious. It's also very natural and "distinctively Dallas," he adds.

Massey uses words like streamlined, efficient, effective and elegant when discussing the new terminal. On the more practical side, he says it's a convenient building that will be easy to maintain and modify over its life. Corgan was given a "little bit of design freedom," but was instructed to use it "where it counted," Massey explains. "We worked with Southwest and the city to create a nice facility, but all the design decisions had good rationale behind them."

For example, DAL's rich history influenced space planning and material selection. Corgan designers used concrete columns and wood beams to recall the feeling of an older building, but wood was also less expensive than steel; so it made both economic and design sense, Massey comments.

The airside design allows carriers to load aircraft from both sides of the concourse, Duebner notes. Efficiencies are also gained via shared main corridors and holdrooms on both sides. "We have a compact footprint, but it's easy to navigate, easy for people to find their way," he says.

With all gates on one concourse and all sized to accommodate 737-800 aircraft, the design also provides benefits for Southwest. "That's going to give us operational advantages in manpower, and it's also going to give us a lot of flexibility in our flying," says Montgomery.

Bringing all the players together early in the planning process helped achieve an optimum design by creating a "real team atmosphere," recalls Montgomery. This not only allowed team members to collaborate, but also to challenge each other, he relates: "The architects didn't design a facility that was difficult to build or maintain; and the architects challenged the contractor to look at things differently, so we didn't get just a square box and an uninspired building. We have a great building."

Convenience & Flow

The decision to build new rather than renovate was partially driven by the efficiencies that would be gained by redesigning passenger flow. The new approach solves a lot of problems, Duebner notes. Previously, passengers leaving the building for the parking garage had to cross the lobby in order to access the escalator that leads to the skybridge. Now, deplaning passengers without checked bags can remain on the same level, bypass the lobby and go directly to the skybridge. "We eliminated a lot of contra-flow through the lobby," he explains.

The new terminal is designed for intuitive wayfinding, so visitors don't have to rely on signs to find their way, adds Massey. "The building informs you where you need to go by using tall spaces and lighting," he explains. "We took a lot of care to make the flow of people as simple and convenient as possible."

Outside the building, roadways around the terminal were improved to enhance DAL's exterior flow.

The new interior layout and amenities were also planned with expedience in mind. "People want to be able to get in and out of the airport quickly and easily," reasons Duebner. "They want it to be easy to navigate with a bright, open and clean environment with lots of concessions choices. I really think we hit on pretty much all marks with the new design."

Other passenger amenities include holdroom seating with electric outlets for charging personal devices and a new central seating area with comfortable chairs and tables to help passengers enjoy the expanded food and beverage offerings.

Airside, new power and air systems were added on the loading bridges to keep aircraft cooler for passenger comfort.

Certain aspects of the design also allow for future flexibility, Massey adds. Infrastructure under the floor in the ticketing hall allows self-service devices to be installed in different locations throughout the check-in hall. Preliminary accommodations were also made for a possible drive-through check-in facility.

Challenging Space

DAL's limited footprint of 1,300 acres made the project especially challenging, but the design team did as much as it could with the existing area, Duebner relates. "It would have been great if we could have built a brand new terminal on a big chunk of land somewhere else, but we had to phase all the activity while we were still maintaining all the service we had been providing,"
he muses.

Massey agrees that building a new facility on top of the old as it continued to operate increased the project's degree of difficulty. Three existing concourses were torn down in sequence and replaced with a single concourse. Then, heavy renovation of the lobby and other parts of the existing building followed. The main challenge was not being able to take any gates out of service, Massey recalls. "Southwest is a very aggressive operator," he explains. "They're a very high performance airline. It was a challenge to not only keep operations in place, but also reroute passengers as parts of the building were under construction."

Constructing the new terminal without inconveniencing passengers involved a great deal of careful phasing, notes Duebner. For example, the first 12 new gates were constructed before the old West Concourse could be torn down. Once the new gates were complete, Southwest moved in and construction continued. "It's been a little bit of musical chairs," he quips. "We've got to build a chair for someone to move to so we can tear down the old chair."

Customer service representatives and updated signage have helped reduce the impact to customers throughout the multi-phase construction, Duebner adds.

More Concessions, More Revenue

Concession space received a dramatic makeover and more than doubled in square footage. "We knew we had a concessions program that wasn't generating as much revenue for the airport as it could - and that was given to the space limitations in the existing facilities," Duebner notes.

The recently updated program offers new concessions options, and customers have responded with their wallets. DAL has seen a 25% increase in concessions sales with the same number of enplanements, he reports.

Hudson Group, in partnership with two joint ventures, was selected to provide "distinctively Dallas" retail and food services at the new terminal. Its contract with the city of Dallas includes eight retail and two food/beverage packages, totaling nearly 16,000 square feet. Its operations include three newsstands, a bookstore, 11 specialty retail concepts and five food/beverage locations.

New offerings from HMSHost and joint venture partner JavaStar include Dallas picks such as La Madeleine Country French Café, Paciugo Gelato & Caffe and Cool River Café. National brands like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A are also in the HMSHost lineup.

Air Star Concessions operates four regional favorites: Whataburger, Campisi's, Cantina Laredo and Chili's. Puente Ventures teamed with Dallas chef Stephen Pyles to create Sky Canyon.

"People really like coming to Love Field, and the concessions choices are driving both customer satisfaction and revenue," reports Montgomery. A better overall experience and decreased operating costs thanks to new systems translate into "huge increases" in customer service, he adds.

Love's LEED

Project participants report that the Love Field Modernization Program is on track to apply for silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED). Applicable elements include high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows that allow more natural light, new heating/venting/air conditioning systems and energy-smart lighting.

Formerly carpeted walkways and common areas that were difficult to maintain were covered with terrazzo flooring, which is more durable, easier to maintain and less costly than carpet, Duebner notes. The particular terrazzo selected is comprised of a high amount of recycled materials, including soda bottles and buttons.

In the basement of the building, a water leak from a natural underground spring that previously accrued maintenance costs was turned into a creative - and LEED-eligible - solution. Corgan designed a system that will capture the water, store it and reuse it as makeup water for the cooling towers of the building's mechanical system. "It was an innovative way to turn a problem into a benefit," Massey says.

Wood used in the major spaces was grown within 500 miles of the project, which also helps amass LEED credits. And the environmental and lighting systems feature a high level of control to balance comfort and need with energy consumption. "The systems are very advanced and help to minimize energy usage as much as possible," Massey relates.

Duebner acknowledges that the airport will incur some new costs associated with select LEED elements. For example, it previously spent about $80,000 per year on filters for the heating/venting/air conditioning system; filters for DAL's new, more sophisticated and environmentally effective system will cost $500,000 annually. Benefits that counterbalance those costs, however, are expected to build over time. "We believe that overall, we're in a better place from an O&M (operation and management) standpoint," he relates.

Next Time

Although Duebner reflects on the planning for the modernization program as "really sound," unanticipated elements requiring additional space have already emerged. "Needs grow as your business changes, as the airlines change," he explains. "As new markets are created, what customers are asking for (changes)."

For example, DAL did not plan for a passenger lounge, but it is proving to be a sought-after amenity. "Had we known at the time, we'd have planned for another 2,000 square feet that would be dedicated for a lounge," Duebner reflects. Based on customer feedback, a family bathroom is being renovated to provide private space for nursing mothers.

The airport will also likely need to add about 2,500 on-airport, covered parking spaces to accommodate the increase in traffic, he adds. Currently, DAL has two on-airport garages with about 7,000 spaces.

Without any such add-on projects, DAL's modernization program has resulted in some 9,000 construction jobs and more than $1 billion in economic impact to the region, Duebner reports. As of June, more than 40% of its contracts had been awarded to disadvantaged business enterprise firms.

"Love Field is a great asset to the city, and we're excited about the new terminal and the end of the Wright Amendment restrictions," Duebner concludes. "It gives our residents another choice for a nonstop option."

Subcategory: 
Terminals

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