Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 20, 2019

Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport opened in 1973. As early as 1940 a regional airport for the Dallas and Fort Worth area was being considered. The Civil Aeronautics Administration approached the city of Arlington to sponsor an airport midway between the two larger cities. Both Dallas and Fort Worth were interested, since expansion of Meacham Field and Love Field in Dallas would require extensive construction to accommodate increasing air traffic and larger aircraft. Arlington agreed, and with the support of American Airlines (see AMR CORPORATION) and Braniff Airways, which were to deed 1,000 acres of land, the CAA was to build the landing area; a seven-man board would control overall operation of the field. Construction began in 1942, but a disagreement over which way the terminal building should face, along with other considerations, caused the airport, then called Midway, to be turned over to the city of Arlington in 1943. It was operated during World War II by the military as a training field and for test flights. In 1946 Fort Worth hired a firm to prepare an airport plan for the city. The next year it decided to develop Midway as its major airport and renamed it Greater Fort Worth International Airport. Dallas continued to develop Love Field. In 1948 the CAA National Airport Plan recommended that Greater Fort Worth International Airport be expanded into the major regional airport. Fort Worth annexed the site and continued to develop the airport with the support of American Airlines. Dallas continued its opposition. According to the Dallas Morning News, at one time the feud became so bitter that Fort Worth mayor Amon G. Carter refused to eat in Dallas restaurants and, when business made it necessary for him to be in Dallas, he carried a sack lunch. In 1950 the Fort Worth City Council renamed the airport Amon G. Carter Field. In September 1951 a bond election was held, and voters approved $28.9 million in bonds. Another election was held in May 1952 in which $1.5 million was approved for aviation improvements. This issue was part of the Love Field–Carter Field competition during the 1950s. The airport officially opened in April 1953.

During the 1950s two attempts were made by Fort Worth to convert Carter Field into a joint regional airport with Dallas participating as a full partner. Both efforts were rebuffed by Dallas, and expansion of Love Field continued. In May 1960 the airport, renamed Greater Southwest International Airport, was purchased by the city of Fort Worth in an effort to compete more successfully with Love Field, and a municipal board was established to supervise the city's airports.

From 1959 to 1965 the percentage of enplaning passengers from Greater Southwest declined from 6 percent of Texas air traffic to less than 1 percent, while Love Field increased from 40.3 percent to 49.0 percent. The result was the virtual abandonment of Greater Southwest International Airport and serious congestion at Love Field. Though Dallas and Fort Worth were archrivals, the Federal Aviation Administration (formerly the CAA) refused to put any more money into duplicate installations. In 1964 the Civil Aeronautics Board ordered the two cities to come up in less than 180 days with a voluntary agreement on the location of a new regional airport, or the federal government would do it for them. CAB examiner Ross I. Newmann served as a mediator between the two cities in an attempt to find a solution. Both cities appointed committees, and by 1965 plans were set for a Dallas–Fort Worth Board, which would consist of eleven members—seven from Dallas and four from Fort Worth. The board named Thomas M. Sullivan executive director of airport construction and operations. The site for an airport, originally called Dallas–Fort Worth Regional Airport, was chosen. The plan received broad support, and in December 1968 ground was broken at the intersection of the towns of Euless, Irving, and Grapevine. The new site included the old Greater Southwest International Airport.

The new airport, now known as the Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport, was dedicated in September 1973 and became operational on January 13, 1974. The first commercial flight that day, American Airlines Flight 341, flew from New York to Dallas via Memphis and Little Rock, touching down exactly on time. At the time of the opening of the airport nine airlines operated there. In addition, extensive facilities were in operation, including a 600-room hotel, a post office, and various shops and restaurants. Love Field declined rapidly, falling from close to seven million passengers in 1973 to less than 500,000 in 1975, though it gradually recovered in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1988 Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport was the fourth largest airport in the world, as 42,000,000 passengers enplaned there on 635,000 flights. When designed, the airport occupied 17,500 acres, which equals more than twenty-seven square miles, an area larger than the island of Manhattan. The original plans provide for thirteen terminal buildings along a nine-mile International Parkway. In the original construction there were four pueblo-like terminals, each with a horseshoe shape, along a linear central roadway. Each of the four terminals contains 790,000 square feet of covered space and can accommodate eighteen Boeing 747s. The grand design of thirteen terminals would provide 234 aircraft-boarding gates, up to eleven runways, and cargo-handling capability equal to the world's largest seaports, with expansion to take place as needed. The terminals are connected by the world's first automated transit system, called Airtrans. It is capable of moving 9,000 people, 6,000 bags, and 70,000 pounds of mail each hour.

Enough concrete and asphalt were used on the runways and roads to pave a four-lane expressway from Dallas to Oklahoma City. Air traffic is controlled from a 196-foot control tower with two separate control cabs for the two sets of parallel 11,400-foot runways. The eleven-sided tower cab is the only one of its kind in the world. For controlled aircraft approaches there are five instrument-landing systems. The airport was five years under construction at a cost of $700 million. From 1974 to 1988 an additional $600 million was spent on expansion and improvements. In 1988, under the threat of increased noise and reduced property values, the cities of Irving, Euless, and Grapevine began a legal battle against planned expansion of the airport. The Supreme Court sided with the airport in 1994. In 2001 the airport served 27,271,848 passengers and was the fifth-busiest airport in the world.

Dallas Morning News, January 8, 1989, December 6, 1994. Stanley H. Scott and Levi H. Davis, A Giant in Texas (Quanah, Texas: Nortex Press, 1974). Texas Business Review, April 1967. Texas Parade, June 1973. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-fort-worth-international-airport.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 20, 2019

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