Denver airport plans for growth past 50M travelers |

Denver airport plans for growth past 50M travelers

DENVER, Colorado ” Denver International Airport is hosting four meetings next week to gather public input on its growth plans through 2030, as it prepares to finalize its updated master plan next spring.

The plan would look at issues such as where the airport could add a seventh runway and how it could eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year, with an eye toward keeping costs affordable for airlines to fly to Denver.

The city-owned airport opened Feb. 28, 1995. Its original master plan, finalized in the 1980s, was created to handle up to 50 million travelers passing through each year.

Last year a record 51.2 million passengers used the airport, topping the previous record of 49.8 million in 2007. Airport manager of aviation Kim Day said Thursday the airport is looking at the potential to double that.

The airport handles more passengers who start and end their trips in Denver than originally expected, rather than just connecting to other flights without using airport roads, ticket counters and baggage pickup areas. Security measures and technology also have changed since the first master plan was written.

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In a “State of DIA” address, Day said that in the short-term, the airport is looking to finally break ground next year on a hotel that has been planned for more than a decade and expand international service.

“Attracting a new international carrier is tantamount to luring the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company,” Day said.

Lufthansa halted its Denver-Munich flights last year and opted to shift aircraft to more lucrative Asian routes, but Day said the airport hopes to restore service to Munich once the economy rebounds. The city also is working to land a nonstop flight to Tokyo.

The airport hopes to add gates as soon as the economy starts looking up, Day said.

Denver is the main hub for Frontier Airlines and the second-largest hub for United Airlines, the largest carrier at DIA. Southwest Airlines re-entered the Denver market in 2006 after a 20-year absence, in large part because of strong business and leisure travel through Denver, said Pete McGlade, vice president of network planning for Southwest.

It is the 10th-busiest airport in the world.

While it had a reputation of a high-cost airport when it opened, costs per passenger are around $10.50 now, compared with $2 to $18 at other airports, Day said.

However it is not immune to falling traffic in the weak economy. Passenger traffic fell 8.2 percent to 3.5 million passengers in February, compared with a year earlier, after a 2.4 percent drop in January.

Fares have fallen about 23 percent from their peak in 2000, Day said, leaving airlines searching for ways to cut costs and add fees to boost revenue.

The Colorado Department of Transportation estimated last year that the airport contributed about $22.3 billion in economic activity, including jobs, spending by visitors and activity from businesses that depend on the airport, said Travis Vallin, director of the division of aeronautics at CDOT.

“Our growth is the region’s growth,” Day said.

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