Detroit Metro Airport: Breaking new ground

Posted: 4 February 2008 | Lester Robinson, CEO, Wayne County Airport Authority | No comments yet

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) welcomes nearly 36 million passengers per year, making it the nation’s 11th busiest airport and the world’s 19th busiest in 2006 according to Airports Council International (ACI). Located approximately 26 miles (42 km) southeast of the major U.S. city of Detroit, Michigan, DTW is the primary international airport serving a metropolitan area of more than six million people.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) welcomes nearly 36 million passengers per year, making it the nation’s 11th busiest airport and the world’s 19th busiest in 2006 according to Airports Council International (ACI). Located approximately 26 miles (42 km) southeast of the major U.S. city of Detroit, Michigan, DTW is the primary international airport serving a metropolitan area of more than six million people.

DTW is also the largest hub and primary U.S. international gateway for Northwest Airlines, the world’s fifth busiest carrier, and the second-largest hub for ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines. Together with 14 additional airlines – including five foreign flag carriers – Detroit’s airlines and their regional partners offer service to more than 160 non-stop destinations around the globe.

A transformed operation

With the passage of Michigan’s Public Airport Authority Act in 2002, the Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA) assumed operational jurisdiction for Wayne County’s two busiest air transport facilities: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) and Willow Run Airport (YIP). In the years since, WCAA has taken seriously its responsibility to transform both airports from government bureaucracies into operations that more closely resemble efficient businesses.

Evidence of this transformation is apparent throughout both airports. Despite the turbulent times for the airport transportation industry, WCAA today provides safer, more cost-efficient and more operationally-capable air transportation facilities than ever before. These enhancements have allowed both airports to welcome new carriers to expanded facilities, thereby allowing for more competition, lower prices, and added customer conveniences.

Newer, nicer facilities

Detroit Metro Airport’s award-winning McNamara Terminal is perhaps the most vivid expression of the airport’s dramatic transformation. Home to Northwest Airlines and its SkyTeam alliance partners, as well as more than 90 shops and restaurants, an automated people mover and a 414-room Westin Hotel, the McNamara Terminal has elevated DTW to its current place among the world’s premier air transport hubs. Unique among major U.S. hubs, the terminal also features covered loading bridges at each of its 122 gates – including regional jet and turboprop loading gates – enabling passengers to board even the smallest regional aircraft without going outside.

In addition to the new terminal, DTW made several significant investments to ensure the long-term efficiency of its other key facilities since 2003, including a sixth runway, a new terminal, the complete rebuilding of a major arrivals runway, a 11,000-space parking garage, a new access road and additional services across various departments. Through strong fiscal discipline, airport management has reduced airline operating costs at the airport despite major investments in runways and other infrastructure due to the increased efficiency such improvements provide.

Cutting costs

Due largely to responsible spending and cost-effective measures established by the Authority, DTW is now one of the least expensive airports in the United States from which to operate. DTW’s cost per enplaned passenger in 2003 was US$7.12. In 2006 that number fell to $5.04. The low-cost environment at DTW gives Southeast Michigan a significant advantage compared to other regions, since a low-cost airport creates opportunities for existing carriers to expand their business and new carriers to add service to and from Detroit.

Airlines are not the only ones paying less today to fly to and from DTW than they did just two years prior. Detroit travelers saved an estimated $109 million last year after inflation thanks to lower average domestic airfares during 2007 compared to 2005. The average cost-per-mile to fly to and from Detroit was lower than 78.7% of the nation’s top 300 airports in 2007, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

While 266 of the 300 busiest U.S. airports saw fares increase since 2005, Detroit was one of only 34 airports to experience a decrease in average air fares. Average airfares per mile to and from Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) have declined 8.5% since 2005 when adjusted for inflation. Nominal fares declined 1.5% since 2005, making Detroit one of only two airports in Michigan – and one of only three major U.S. mainland hubs – to offer travelers lower average fares.

Customer satisfaction

Lower airfares are just one element of the airport’s transformation that has pleased customers. DTW was recently honored as home to the Best Convenience Retail Program in North America among large airports in the ACI-North America 2007 Excellence in Airport Concessions Contest. Also in 2007, DTW’s McNamara Terminal concessions topped the Airport Revenue News Concession Poll as Best Overall Concession Program, Best Concession Management Team, Best Concession Program Design, and Airport with the Most Unique Services.

Among international passengers, DTW ranked third in the world among airports of its size and third among all U.S. airports for passenger satisfaction in the ACI 2006 Airport Service Quality Awards program. The airport picked-up yet another vote of confidence when J.D. Power & Associates ranked DTW second-best in overall customer satisfaction among large U.S. airports in 2007.

Environmental excellence

Perhaps less visible than DTW’s operational and facility improvements is the Authority’s enhanced commitment to environmental excellence. While the global airline industry has recently fallen under the microscope of environmentalists concerned about the effect of aircraft emissions, DTW is not idling its engines with regard to how daily airport operations can be enhanced to reduce their impact on the environment.

DTW is a world leader when it comes to the recycling of aircraft deicing fluid (ADF). Each winter, DTW recycles nearly one million gallons of ADF – making it the largest ADF recycler in the world for seven of the past eight years. Recycling ADF, which can then be used for paints, plastics and other industrial materials, saves the DTW approximately $2 million in water treatment costs annually and is an important element of the airport’s overall storm water management program.

With a land area covering about 6,700 acres, DTW splits across two watersheds. The airport actively participates in the watershed groups made up of member communities. Both of these watershed groups provide public education programs and work closely with other municipalities and landowners in the region to coordinate storm water management efforts.

The Authority has also both accelerated and improved the DTW noise abatement program – known as the Neighborhood Compatibility Program – that had begun in 1997. While the airport had provided sound insulation to about 400 homes by 2002, with the establishment of WCAA, DTW picked-up the pace and insulated more than 1,900 additional homes over the past five years. Upon the program’s completion in 2006, the FAA recognised the Authority for transforming DTW’s Neighborhood Compatibility Program into the top such program in the region.

In addition, the Airport Authority also continues to monitor and maintain Crosswinds Marsh – a 1,000-acre wetland preserve that was created in 1993 to compensate for 300 acres of on-airport wetlands disturbed during expansion projects. The award-winning Crosswinds Marsh has since been expanded and improved.

Looking forward: breaking new ground

As we look toward the future, the Authority’s challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and continue to build-upon the success of the Authority’s first five years to ensure that both of its airports will continue to meet the needs of the dynamic Metro Detroit region well into the future.

North terminal redevelopment project

Now under construction and scheduled for a September 2008 debut, DTW’s new, technologically-advanced North Terminal will represent another major investment in the region that will have wide-reaching benefits to businesses and consumers. The 26-gate facility will replace the airport’s aging Berry and Smith terminals. The new $431 million terminal will serve as Detroit’s home to Air Canada, American Airlines, AirTran Airways, Frontier Airlines, Lufthansa, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit, United, US Airways, USA 3000 and charter flights.

The new terminal will be a tremendous time saver for travelers leaving and arriving Detroit. The terminal’s linear design will create a faster, more efficient method of taxiing aircraft that will save fuel, and reduce both environmental emissions and taxi time. The facility will also include a Federal Inspection Services (FIS) station to accommodate international arrivals. It will also feature a ground transportation center to provide passengers with easy connections between the airport and commercial vehicles serving the community. And, the North Terminal will be equipped for common use terminal equipment (CUTE) to provide enhanced flexibility that both reduces costs and provides added passenger convenience.

DTW’s commitment to the environment will continue in the new North Terminal, thanks in part to a Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) grant totaling nearly $5.1 million awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Funding from this grant will be used support the construction of infrastructure to deliver fuel, temperature-controlled air and auxiliary electrical power directly to aircraft parked at each new boarding gate. Together, these three systems will eliminate the need for, and emissions associated with, mobile fuel trucks and aircraft reliance on on-board auxiliary power units and diesel-powered portable ground power units – thus reducing fuel consumption and associated emissions.

Master plan: building for 2025

Long-term plans for DTW include a number of additional capacity enhancements in preparation for expected growth in traffic. With total passenger enplanements at Detroit Metro Airport projected to increase an average of 2.3% per year through 2025 by the Federal Aviation Administration, DTW expects to see twice its current passenger levels – up to nearly 60 million passengers per year – in just 17 years.

The centerpiece of the airport’s next Master Plan, now in review, is an Automated Transit System (ATS) system to provide airport customers with easy connections among airport facilities. The ATS will initially connect the airport’s two passenger terminals, but could later be extended to connect both terminals with airport parking, a consolidated rental car facility and links to future regional transit. By providing fast and efficient tram service among airport facilities, the ATS will provide added passenger convenience while also reducing congestion on airport roadways and emissions associated with shuttle busses.

DTW expansion plans also call for a new, consolidated rental car facility that will centralise the operations of all on-airport rental car companies to create a more modern, efficient and environmentally-friendly system of getting air travelers to and from their rental cars. The new facility will streamline the rental and lot operations of all vendors by reducing redundancy, while the centralised facility provides a single, easy-to-find center for all rental car customers.

Revving the regional economy

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn, DTW airport directly stimulates more than $7.6 billion for the Michigan economy. And while WCAA directly employs just over 700 people, the airport is home to more than 18,600 jobs when each of the airlines, concessionaires, ground handlers, government agencies and other organisations operating at DTW are included. In fact, the same study found that activity at DTW stimulates more than 71,000 jobs throughout the State of Michigan – representing more than $2 billion in local earnings to state workers and businesses.

Recognising that DTW is among Southeast Michigan’s most prized economic assets, Detroit-area leaders are relying heavily on further airport-related development as a key part of their strategy to transform the region’s struggling economy.

Because Detroit Metro and Willow Run Airports are located just seven miles apart, and since both airports provide plenty of complimentary capacity, WCAA’s two airports are uniquely positioned to become anchors of an emerging type of commercial development known as an Aerotropolis. This “airport city” would leverage the airports’ economic potential by developing the area between and surrounding them into a global logistics hub for the movement of people, products and information and providing thousands of jobs.

Already well-known as a world-leader for the design, development and production of manufacturing systems and processes, the Greater Detroit Region has the infrastructure, supply chain know-how, and deep regional asset base in industrial design, engineering, advanced manufacturing and logistics to build a world-class aerotropolis. However, WCAA recognises that the success of this development relies largely on the safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of both its airports. Going forward, the Authority will continue its five-year track record of ensuring that both airports continue to meet the demands of the region and travelers we serve well into the future.

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