DALLAS — Forty years ago today Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport received the first commercial air flight, starting off a long history for one of the world’s larger airports. The airport maintains a laundry list of superlatives, maintaining one of the largest people mover systems in the world, four workings runways at 13,000 feet, and its own postal code.
The airport celebrated this morning as DFW and American Airlines celebrated the arrival of flight 1461 from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Yellow Texas roses were presented to each passenger as they deplaned, along with a slice of cake, mirroring the very first to arrive at the airfield in 1974. As the airport celebrates its birthday, we take a quick look back at the history of this remarkable airport.
The idea for DFW first came to be in September, 1964. At the time the cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth both had their own separate airports: Love Field for Dallas, and Greater Southwest International Airport for Ft. Worth. The two cities maintained a rivalry between their two fields for years as both fought for passengers.
As Dallas grew to overshadow its neighbor, so too did Love Field. By 1965 the airport hosted 49% of Texas air traffic, while Ft. Worth had declined to under one percent.
Seeing the writing on the wall a few years earlier, the FAA (named CAA at the time), in 1964, refused to continue financially support both fields going forward. It also ruled that both would be insufficient to meet future demand, and thus ordered the two cities to set aside their differences and create a joint airport.
A site was chosen between the three towns of Euless, Irving, and Grapevine Texas, and ground was broken on the airport on December 11, 1968. The construction, which lasted five years, produced a truly monumental feat. The original four terminals enclosed nearly one million square feet of floor space, and each could handle up to eighteen 747s, the largest plane at the time. It is said that enough concrete was used to build the runways, taxiways, and aprons to build a four lane highway between Dallas and Oklahoma City (205.7 miles).
The completed airport was unveiled to the public in a lavish ceremony on September 20, 1973. More than 200,000 turned out for the dedication. But the big draw was the first visit of Concorde to the US. The British Airways jet made a DFW its pit stop while en route from Caracas to Paris. It was accompanied on the apron by Braniff’s famous and first Boeing 747 “Big Orange”.
The field officially opened several months later on January 13, 1974, as American Airlines flight 315 from Little Rock touched down on the fresh runway. At the time Dallas-Ft. Worth Regional airport had only four terminals (it now has five, though was built to accommodate up to thirteen). Every airline that had been serving the bustling Love Field moved over practically immediately to DFW, except for budget carrier Southwest which chose to stay behind.
As Southwest grew, however, the city of Ft. Worth resented the carrier, the airport, and the cities continued success. Ft. Worth’s congressional representative, Jim Wright, wound up creating the now infamous Wright Amendment, which severely limited Southwest’s operating capabilities from the airport. The law has provided DFW significant protection from competition since it went into effect in 1980. After decades of protest from Southwest, the arcane law is set to expire in the fall of 2014.
Meanwhile, DFW continued to hum along. Braniff, which had hubbed at Dallas Love prior to the move, was DFW’s first airline to hub in the city. It began the airport’s first European route in March of 1978, operating to London Gatwick, and added service to Asia in 1979. Braniff also brought DFW regular Concorde service in the late 1970s and very early 1980s, giving Dallas/Ft. Worth a distinction only a handful of US airports can claim. The carrier borrowed the iconic airplane from both Air France and British Airways, touting one-stop Concorde service Dallas to London and Paris.
American followed suit in the same year, choosing Ft. Worth as its corporate headquarters in 1978. It doubled down a few years later, making DFW an official hub in 1981, and adding international flights to London in 1982. It went on to add service to Tokyo in 1987.
The airport’s first big shake up took place on May 12th, 1982 when Braniff abruptly ended service and filed for bankruptcy. At the time Braniff was by far the airport’s largest carrier. The scene created a chaotic nightmare in the hub, as passengers already on airplanes were forced to leave the aircraft. Passengers were simply told that Braniff no longer existed.
The airport eventually went on to assume its present name, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, in 1985. The same year also saw the first major disaster, Delta 191. The flight, operated by a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, crashed while trying to land in a thunderstorm. Twenty-seven of the 152 on board survived. Three years later a Delta 727 crashed on takeoff in 1988, killing 14 of the 108 on board.
DFW attempted to expand in 1989, wishing to add two additional runways and terminals. The surrounding cities, all of which share land with the massive neighbor, all objected and sued to stop the growth. The case meandered its way to the very top of the justice system, the Supreme Court. The court ultimately sided with the airport, paving the way for the airports seventh runway being complete in 1996. Existing primary runways were also all extended the first batch in 1996, the latter batch by 2005.
Like all airports, DFW struggled after 9/11. Delta dehubbed the airport in 2005, leaving American as the uncontested ruler of DFW. It wound up recovering nicely.
The International Terminal D and the present Skylink train system were both completed in 2005, providing a fresh and modern alternative to the now aging A, B, C, and E terminals. American, which had gone bankrupt in 2011, also began the process of renovating sections of terminal, starting with A in 2012. The renovations are expected to continue for several years, especially following the successful merger of American with US Airways.
Recently the airport has seen a heavy and long overdue rash of international expansion in the past year. American announced new routes to Hong Kong and Shanghai in October 2013, the airport’s first service to China. Qatar plans service to Doha, and Etihad to Abu Dhabi. Rumors have also been flying that the airport will start construction of Terminal F some time this decade. If so, DFW will come one step closer to those thirteen terminals originally envisioned.
Today, AA and DFW will mark the occasion by giving each arriving passenger from a Little Rock flight a commemorative yellow rose like they did 40 years ago when the airport first opened. We hope to have photos of the event.