Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is investing in new cargo facilities to address its capacity conundrum and target growth.
Earlier this year, DFW announced that it had selected two tenants – Menzies Aviation and dnata USA – for its legacy 19th Street Cargo facility redevelopment.
While the development of new cargo buildings and tenants is a regular occurrence, for DFW there are three elements to this announcement that make it a game changer for the airport.
Firstly, explains DFW executive vice president global strategy and development John Ackerman, the airport has reached capacity.
“Right now, we have no empty space,” says Ackerman. “If you want to come here, we literally don’t have space. Everything is full, which is a good problem to have.”
As well as adding approximately 350,000 sq ft of new warehouse space, the project will also add seven more freighter parking spots.
Another reason that the project is “a big deal” for DFW is that the airport will invest in the facilities itself, something that is unusual in the US.
“It is the first investment the airport has made on its own into cargo facilities,” says Ackerman. “Most US airports lease out the land to a private developer and they own the building.
“That is great, and it is a model that works, but we believe that when you do that, that building owner and operator have the relationship with the cargo community.
“We believe that the cargo community has to be properly curated and that you need the right blend of forwarders, handlers, ground support equipment, cold chain – all the stuff that makes up a well-functioning cargo community.
“Our vision is that if we develop, own and operate the buildings, the buck stops with us, and we will go out and make sure that the community is functioning properly.”
The addition of two new handlers is also important for the airport as it currently has a single dominant player, WFS, which through a series of acquisitions controls around 80% of the facilities and all the parking positions.
Ackerman says that while WFS does a great job, having a dominant handler is an impediment to attracting new airlines.
On Menzies and dnata USA, Ackerman says they met all the criteria the airport was looking for.
“We ran a very robust process. We said we want these to be state of the art buildings, we want the latest technology, we want automation, robotics, all the things that are going to be essential in the future,” he says.
Now the two handlers have been selected, work continues on getting the building plans finalised and the whole project approved by the board.
“This will be the biggest investment the airport has ever made in cargo by an order of magnitude, so the board is going to expect us to have a compelling business case and to have this well thought out.
“We are confident and expect to get board approval. If we stay on track, by late 2024 or early 2025 this will be operational and it will be a different airport.”
Ackerman says that demand levels have eased by about 5% from the 1m tonnes handled by the airport in 2021 and should be flat this year at around 950,000 tonnes.
He says the drop-off reflects the overall market and the number of Asia-based freighter operators that call at the airport. These airlines were hit particularly hard by ongoing lockdowns experienced last year.
Looking ahead he is confident that demand will quickly pick up in the future to help fill the new buildings.
“Our strategy is to connect Asia and Latin America over DFW and long-term macroeconomic trends still favour that strategy,” says Ackerman.
“It is a combination of our Asia freighter network and American Airlines has a massive amount of belly capacity into Latin America from DFW.”
He adds that DFW is also the closest major airport to Mexico and volumes can be trucked from there and then flown out of Dallas.
Meanwhile, the Dallas metropolitan area is soon to become the third largest in the country, overtaking Chicago.