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New Terminal, Flying Taxis and AI: The Next 50 Years for DFW Airport

The airport sees the potential for a fully automated passenger experience in a little more than 15 years.

More than 100 million passengers by the end of the decade. A brand-new terminal and additional improvements to existing terminals. The opportunity for Southwest Airlines to occupy gates.

These are just a few of the goals and opportunities that the next 50 years of DFW International Airport could bring, as airport leaders reflect on its first 50 years.

In 1974, the airport served 7 million customers. In 2022, DFW had 73.4 million passengers fly through.

So how does the world’s second-busiest airport top the last 50 historic years and set itself up for another solid 50? Here’s a look at the future of the half-century-old DFW Airport.


To start, DFW Airport is heading into 2024 with $7 billion in new projects.

In May, the airport and American Airlines came to a deal for $4.8 billion in expansions, including $1.6 billion for a new terminal that would include 15 new gates.

“I want us to look back and say we did it on budget, we did it on time, but we also did it in the least disruptive manner we could,” said Sean Donohue, CEO of DFW Airport, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News in September. “It is going to be disruptive, but with careful, holistic planning, with great communications to our employees and our business partners and our customers. ... That sounds easy to say, it’s really hard to do. ... That’s the challenge I’ve put in front of the team is, how can we be best in class with how we manage the disruption from a customer and employee perspective?”

American and DFW came to a tentative deal on building a new $3 billion Terminal F in 2019, a partnership that could give the airline room to grow for years to come. However, the terminal was put on pause when the pandemic started.

The new terminal would occupy a spot near the Express South Parking lot, the last of six spaces that were part of the original airport design for terminals. The new gates will be built in a single row on the airfield side of the Skylink light rail tracks, unlike what was done with the airport’s other five terminals.

Terminal F expands the airport’s existing 168 gates and gives room to grow up to 100 million passengers in the next six or seven years, Donohue told attendees at a press conference in May.

DFW is also refurbishing Terminals A and C. Terminal C’s new look will include four of the nine new gates, the other five going to Terminal A in its revamp. The airport will expand in phases, Donohue told The Dallas Morning News in May. There will be three to four phases of “tear down and rebuild,” he said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, home to Delta Air Lines, is the busiest airport in the country. The airport saw 93.6 million passengers in 2022. Donohue doesn’t see DFW surpassing it this decade, but it’s not “out of the question.”

There’s also room to add another hometown airline when Southwest Airlines’ restrictions under the Wright Amendment expire in 2025. The carrier is in talks for a “modest presence” at DFW Airport.

“We’re constrained and as the metroplex continues to grow, the constraint and Love Field becomes more and more of an issue,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said at the Skift Aviation Forum in November.


While DFW’s future may come with a new look, it’s also laying the groundwork for how aviation is evolving and new technology is being tested.

In the more immediate future, the airport is investing in biometrics to speed up the passenger journey. The Transportation Security Administration has boasted about the agency’s computed tomography technology and biometrics. There’s even been hints about testing “self-service” checkpoint technology for passengers at DFW.

The 2030s — as Donohue told attendees at the airport’s State of the Airport luncheon in October — will bring integrations such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence to better support the passenger experience. Autonomous vehicles have been tested on Texas roads for a couple of years with companies such as Aurora, Waymo and Kodiak Robotics.

Donohue said a focus of DFW is the “digitalization” of the airport’s facilities, a critical area in the operation.

“We’re creating these digital twins, so that when we build (Terminal) F and (Terminal) C and a lot of other facilities, we’ll have a digital real-time view of the facility with sensors,” Donohue said. “These digital twins give us the ability to do heavy-duty analytics, but more importantly, they’re predictive. We actually now will be able to have a heads up before there’s a mechanical issue, before there is an electrical issue, so we can address things, rather than react to it.”

By the 2040s electric air taxis may be in the cards for DFW. The airport has already a “memorandum of understanding” to take a look at the future of eVTOLs, or electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and its potential operation in Dallas-Fort Worth with a company called OverAir. The new partnership includes a “feasibility assessment” for the potential for passenger eVTOL operations in North Texas.

eVTOLs, also called air taxis, are a fairly new electric technology being tested around the world. The aircraft takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter and flies forward like a traditional aircraft. Southwest Airlines chief Bob Jordan told The News in December he was confident in the technology but skeptical about the rollout. eVTOLs raise a lot of questions about how the technology would operate in the commercial airspace.

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.