Happy 40th Birthday DFW

Photo by John Starkey

Photo by John Starkey

Milestone marks new era of growth, economic impact for region.

Forty years ago, the first flight into what was then called DFW Regional Airport landed just after midnight from Little Rock, Ark. on the final leg of a cross-country trip that started in New York City on Sun., Jan. 13, 1974.

Monday afternoon, Jan. 13, 2014, American Airlines’ flight from Little Rock, Ark., was designated Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s anniversary flight and greeted with a shower from an affectionate water cannon salute, and passengers received yellow Texas roses, commemorating the greeting that DFW’s first arriving customers received.

One employee who has worked at the airport all 40 years compared the experience to watching a tree grow.

“I’ve always looked at the airport as a tree–a pretty tree, a nice tree–you want to watch it grow, and it finally turns out to be something unbelievable,” said Jim Wardlow, Pavements, Signs and Markings Supervisor. “That’s the way the airport’s turned out to me. It’s a beautiful tree–it’s been very rewarding.”

Wardlow started work at DFW when he was 19.

“I’ve come up through the ranks,” he said. “I started as a general laborer, doing whatever I was asked to do and worked my way up to supervisor.

“I came here as a teenager, and I’ve grown into a man with a family–a wife, daughter and a son–that I have supported from DFW Airport,” Wardlow said. “I was a military brat–I lived all over the world. I was actually born at an airport many years ago. I guess I went full circle and came back home.”

DFW’s Chief Financial Officer, Chris Poinsatte, said the commitment of employees like Wardlow is indicative of the spirit at the airport.

“They represent our pledge to continue to make DFW Airport one the best airports in the world,” Poinsatte said. “Although a great deal has changed here at the airport and in the region since DFW opened, what has remained is DFW’s role as an economic driver for this region (with) $31 billion of economic activity every year.

“The founders of DFW had a big dream–DFW would serve as the foundation of the regional economy for decades. Not only were Dallas and Fort Worth leaders true visionaries, their vision has established the basis for the future still. We want to make DFW the pre-eminent global hub airport in the world. So with the help of our outstanding team and support of our customers and airline partners like American Airlines, we plan to do just that.”

Poinsatte said the airport’s 40th year will be filled with more progress and achievements including DART light rail service from Terminal A to downtown Dallas, which has been in the plans for decades. He said in this year, flights will be added to China to Shanghai and to Hong Kong, plus further service to the Middle East.

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Two new airline carriers, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, plan to launch new flights this year to Abu Dhabi and Doha, respectively.

“We are continuing to grow now with 58 international destinations,” Poinsatte said. “We have a lot to be thankful for. From a simple beginning 40 years ago, we are in a position to become a super-global hub–one of the largest in the world.”

Former Irving Mayor Dan Matkin was mayor when the airport opened. He remembered some hesitations about the airport from local people in the early days.

“Our feelings about the airport at that time were somewhat mixed,” Matkin said. “In one way, they took a large amount of property located within Irving’s city limits, which was planned for future growth, and that was a bit of a setback in our overall planning. Also when the airport was announced, there was sort of an edict that required Dallas and Fort Worth to come up with a better airport which obviously is what DFW was designed to do.

“The long term benefits for Irving have been that we are one of the closest metropolitan cities to have access to an airport that was destined to be a major international airport. It has been a driving force in the North Texas growth since its opening 40 years ago. There is no question of that.

“The downside is that Irving was a little bit misled by the planners and developers on the cross-wind runway. The numbers we were shown back in those days did not indicate it was going to be as big a nuisance as it is to the numerous households under its flight path. As it has turned out, there is not much that can be done about it. You just have to kind of learn how to not pay attention to the overall flight noise. In the long term, I guess that has been somewhat of a minimal nuisance.

“Be that as it may, the overall impact of the airport has been magnificent for the whole area even with all its faults. I don’t know of any one entity that could have done more,” Matkin said.

American Airline’s Tim Skipworth, Vice President of Airport Facilities, said that since American’s first flight into DFW 40 years ago, the airport has grown to become the carrier’s largest hub, serving as the central gateway to their domestic and international network. The airline operates more than 800 flights daily to nearly 200 destinations worldwide from DFW.

“It’s been a wonderful 40 years at DFW Airport, and we’re looking forward to a bright future ahead,” Skipworth said. “Forty years ago today was a momentous day to the citizens of Dallas and Fort Worth. The two cities embarked on a 10-year program to plan and build and operate DFW. It was the world’s largest airport at the time. Believe it or not, total construction costs for four terminals and all the infrastructure was $800 million. It seems like a small number today, but then it was a record airport construction project.”

The airport’s growth has meant job security for 40-year employee Larry Dowis, who is in charge of keeping the pavement on runways and roadways in working order. He acknowledged how unusual it is nowadays for an employee to spend 40 years with the same company.

“I started when I was coming out of college and enjoyed it–good benefits,” Dowis said. “I enjoyed working here; the people were great to work with, and that’s how you do it.”

He said he thought the growth of the airport is the biggest change he has seen.

“We started out with three runways, and now we have seven,” Dowis said, remarking on the increased job security each new runway brought him.

On opening day, DFW Airport was served by 12 airlines and had three runways, three terminals and 56 gates. Today the airport has 23 passenger airlines, five terminals and 155 gates and is home to the world’s largest airline, American Airlines.

“The founders of DFW Airport had a big dream, that it would serve as the foundation of our regional economy for decades,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “With that dream realized, the vision of those great Dallas and Fort Worth leaders has now become the basis of our goal to propel DFW into becoming the pre-eminent global hub in the world.”

Some information provided by DFW International Airport.



About the Author

Elaine Paniszczyn

Elaine Paniszczyn earned a degree in Journalism with English as a second major from East Texas A&M in Commerce. She taught journalism in Midland and Lewisville for 23 years. After retiring last year, she put her skills to work for Rambler Newspapers. Her pastimes are reading, dancing, traveling, and spending time with friends and her dog Prissy.