Moments of truth always come when you least expect them, like on nondescript Tuesday mornings in September. One year and some $1 billion into the most comprehensive capital development program in its history, the sky fell on Dallas/Fort Worth International Airportand the rest of the commercial aviation industryon 9/11. "[We] had to make some very difficult decisions," says DFW CEO Jeffrey P. Fegan. "Should we move forward, or pull back?" At stake: The airport's ability to position itself as one of the prime international airdromes on the planet. International traffic at DFW was spread out among a trio of terminals connected by a ground transport system that was less than state-of-the-art. The solution lay in two projects: Terminal D, a dual-use (international and domestic) facility, and an automated people-mover dubbed Skylink. Together, planners believed they could turn DFW into a dominant international player. "To stop them at that time would have literally meant a billion-dollar hole in the airport with nothing to show for it," Fegan says. Almost five years to the day after ground was broken on Terminal D, it was set to open to the public in early July. American Airlines is the prime tenant of and driving force behind the 2.1-million-sq.-ft., 29-gate facility. The terminal cost $1.7 billion, comprising the biggest single chunk of a $2.8 billion capital development underwritten by joint revenue bonds. Connecting D with Terminals A, B, C and E is Skylink, an $880 million, 4.81-mi. automated people-mover billed by airport officials as the world's largest such conveyance. It replaces the TrAAin system that connected American Airlines gates in Terminals A, B and C. Without Skylink, Terminal D wouldn't work nearly as well. "Some 70% of the international traffic that arrives in this building will be departing on a domestic flight from some other terminal," says David J. Lind, managing principal of Corgan Associates, architect for both D and SkyLink. "So it's actually driving more ridership." Initially, 50,000 passengers per day are projected to use the Bombardier-built trains. The system was to precede D into service, picking up its first passengers on May 21.

Cognitive Wayfinding

Passengers should have scant trouble finding a place to stay with a new 298-room Grand Hyatt integrated into the new terminal. D is designed to demonstrate how key terminal systems actually work, relying not so much on signage for navigation as showcasing key components so there is less doubt as to what comes next or where to find it. "One of our major design objectives was to make the passengers understand their routes through the terminal," says Lind. "We use the term 'cognitive wayfinding.' " The structure was built to be transparent. Look up and understand the train runs overhead. "You see it," says Lind. Upon deplaning you also see other international arriving passengers traversing sterile corridors. Look down and there's the concession hall. Look forward and Immigration and Naturalization comes into view. Fliers are "constantly building an understanding of how the building functions," he says.

Safe At Home

One of the less obvious functions of the building is to remain standing in the event of a terrorist attack. Some $50 million in changes were wrought by 9/11. Landside, the roof was reinforced to mitigate blast damage. The architect beefed up structure by modifying roof trusses and jacketing columns in steel instead of concrete. He contends D is the first international terminal in the US built specifically to minimize the effect of a car bomb. Because of the building's transparency, glass was a problem; "We changed typical plate or annealed glass to tempered glass so that in the event of a blast you wouldn't have shards," says DFW Executive VP R. Clay Paslay. To stop bombs from getting onto airplanes, D sports 16 InVision explosives detection devices. Backing them up will be as many as 50 trace detection systems that will examine individual pieces of luggage when EDS alerts are triggered. From the get-go, all checked bag screening is in-line. Reworking the lower level of the terminal to hold the gear was "not something we weren't prepared for," says Lind. Given the lessons of Lockerbie, "We had the cavity in the building prepared for some kind of equipment." Unlike most airports, it wasn't a matter of relocating gear from the 99-position ticketing lobby. Discreetly sequestered beneath the ticketing level, the screening setup has a capacity of 6,200-6,400 bags per hour. Flow and Function System capacity is critical. DFW was used by 5 million international passengers last year. By 2020, that number is projected to rise to 13 million. The terminal has three screening checkpoints with 14 lanes in all. The Transportation Security Administration figures it can screen 2,400 people per hour. On the inbound side, the Immigration hall is fitted with 60 lanes. Properly staffed, it can accommodate 2,800 passengers each hour. When D opens, DFW's three separate international arrivals facilities will be shut down. "We'll relocate all of them into this single facility," says Paslay. "We'll probably have 30 percent more [Customs and Immigration] capacity with D." Processing time for a US citizen terminating a trip at D will be 45 min. inclusive of wait time, moving-sidewalk-assisted walk time and baggage claim. Siemens-built baggage carousels reside in the bowels of the building. "We can accommodate quite a bit of capacity," says Paslay. Each carousel can handle the baggage for a pair of 747-400s. Bags are moved from rampside through a gate distribution system. "At each gate we have a [smaller] carousel," he says. "As the bags are brought off the aircraft it's a very short distance to their input points." Luggage logistics are well reasoned but conservative. Bag tags are barcoded, with no RFID. "We want to be on the leading edge of technology," he smiles, "not the bleeding edge." If the baggage system is prosaically efficient, so is security. Terminal D is not a testbed for biometric screening. "We'll be using current technology," says Jim Lair, acting federal security director.

Zoom Zoom

The design of the terminal may be cutting edge but the day-to-day processes are comfortably conservativewith the exception of computers and Skylink. Underpinning airport processes from FIDS to bag sortation messages is IBM E Series "blade" technology. Blades replace servers, and people. "You don't have to have 20 people to do the technology, you can do it with two," says DFW VP and CIO William Flowers. "And you can pinpoint failures faster." "We are doing extraordinary things here in Terminal D, things no one is doing anywhere else in the world," contends database administrator John Parrish. Physically located in D, the blades expedite the exchange of information throughout the airport, getting it via a fiberoptic infrastructure to the right people at the right time. Not only is the technology fast, it's redundant. "Instead of a bunch of individual servers, each doing its own little system, a sort of stovepipe unto itself, we've gone to co-production blade servers," says Parrish. They function together as a single unit and that unit has a redundant twin. Both are co-producing data all the time; should one fail, the other picks up the entire load. So sophisticated is the IT that "the system will report when it thinks it's going to go down." If the informational infrastructure is fast, so is the physical. With station wait times of no more than 2 min. and speeds up to 37 mph, Skylink "will revolutionize the way DFW operates," asserts Perfecto M. Solis, assistant VP-project development. "We'll move away from a 'terminal concept' type of airport to more of a concourse concept," one in which D is just part of an organic whole. Skylink sports dual guideways, so "if there's a problem on one of the loops, the system can still keep going," says Andrew L. Bell, the capital development project's managing executive. Because Skylink is an airside creature, construction had to be done while the airport operated. Some 80% of the work was performed above an active tarmac. "We had to build this monster and be invisible to the airfield operation at the same time," says Bell. To do that, workers pirouetted at night 50 ft. above the apron. Fear of, among other things, foreign object damage meant "30,000 nighttime gate closures to build this thing," 30,000 times new homes had to be found for aircraft and 30,000 times GSE had to be shuffled, all the while maintaining a tarmac devoid of FOD.

Art Anyone?

Terminal D is anything but devoid of art. It is everywhere, from the rock garden fronting the 8,100-space parking garage to inlaid mosaic tiles in the gate hold areas. Especially fetching is a piece of interactive sculpture titled "Circling" by Christopher Janney. It is located in the south concessions area, a labyrinthine maze in the middle of a busy airport. As you probe deeper into the circle, things become progressively more interesting. At first blush you might think yourself thoroughly lost in this glass and terrazzo construct, a metaphor for modern air travel. Then it hits youyou aren't really lost at all. Lights and sounds, triggered as you pass, help solve the maze. Like the terminal that surrounds it, this transparent work of art offers an intuitive exit. Just follow your instincts.