Editor’s Note: This article was first posted on February 1st. I decided to post the whole article on the home screen since that’s were a majority of readers land when they come to Airports and Airplanes and I figure it will give readers a fun thing to check out over the weekend when news is slow. The next Airport of the Month will debut on March 1st. Enjoy!
Airport of the Month, February 2011: DIA
Since it opened nearly 16 years ago, Denver International Airport (DIA), (IATA: Den, ICAO: KDEN) has been defined by two things: Enormous space, and the strange-looking, tarp-covered roof that greets passengers as they land at the world’s tenth busiest airport.
Denver had the rare luxury of being able to build an airport entirely from scratch with enough land for plenty of expansion to accommodate growth in the decades to come. In fact, DIA is the third largest airport, in terms of square mileage, in the world at 53 square miles.
More than 50 million people per year pass through the airport with a large majority of them flying on United, Frontier, and Southwest, the airports three largest tenants (Frontier and United operate hubs at DIA while Southwest uses it as a focus city).
DIA replaced the now-closed Stapleton Airport which was situated only ten minutes from downtown Denver but was more than 65 years old at the time it closed and was faced with increasing congestion, limited gate space, and noise complaints from nearby neighborhoods.
Initial funding for the new airport came in 1989 under former Denver Mayor Federico Pena whom the city named the main boulevard to the airport after in recognition of his efforts to open the world-class airport.
Ground broke on DIA on November 22, 1989 and the airport was opened on Feb. 28, 1995. The total cost of the airport was $4.9 billion putting it over budget by nearly $2 billion and almost 16 months behind schedule.
One of the most ambitious projects at the new airport, and ultimately one of the most costly and ineffective, was the incorporation of an automated baggage system which would replace the need for baggage carts to drive baggage from the concourse to the main terminal building. The system, partially funded by hub airline United, never worked properly and cost overruns and damage to baggage ultimately led to its abandonment.
Room For Growth
Today DIA is one of the most efficient and spacious airports in the country. Business Traveler Magazine has named the airport the best in North America for six years in a row.
Despite its cleanliness and modern feel, DIA has been open for nearly 16 years now and
recently began planning a major expansion that will include light rail lines that will take passengers from the airport to the heart of downtown Denver in less than 30 minutes, an accompanying train station, and the first on-site hotel at the airport.
Leading the design efforts of the hotel and rail expansion is world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava whosubmitted initial design work in July of 2010. The expansion carries an estimated cost of $650 million and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 if the complete proposal is approved.
Despite being one of the world’s busiest airports and despite having plenty of room for growth, DIA has a noticeable lack of international flights to Europe and zero daily flights to Asia. Boeing’ new 787, which was in Denver in January for testing, has turned Denver into an international target market for airlines using the 787 since the plane will be able to travel long distances but doesn’t have the passenger capacity as the larger aircraft such as the 747, 777, and A380, making it an ideal plane for mid-size markets that lack the demand to fill larger wide-body planes but are too far away to be reached by smaller planes. As the 787 gets delivered to its first customers, look for more international flights to be brought to the mile-high city (All Nippon Airways, the launch customer for the 787, has been in negotiations with Denver to bring a direct flight to Tokyo to the airport)
February marks the 16th anniversary of the opening of DIA and with an impressive expansion effort underway, the airport will continue to serve as the primary gateway to the west for air travelers. By the time it reaches its planned capacity, DIA will be able to handle 110 million passengers a year. And with 53 square miles of space, it is unlikely that a new airport for Denver will be necessary for a very long time.