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Denver's European connection
by: Alain Mengus

DIA is an unusual US airport, as it is one of the largest in the country, but surprisingly it is well behind smaller airports for its international
traffic. The City Hall and the airport authorities have been trying to build a successful strategy of international development since the early 1990s.

Denver International Airport (DIA) opened on 28 February 1995, replacing the old constrained Stapelton airport. The goal was clear: ensuring the development of the local market and economy by providing room for expansion to airline carrier such as United Airlines. It had since become one of the busiest airports of the nation. But despite this success, the city had yet to secure any non-stop service to Europe, which would boost the airport's traffic, and was important to for the city of Denver and the whole Rocky Mountains region to gain a worldwide reputation and recognition.

During the early 1990s, no European airline was present at DIA, and Continental Airlines had dropped its Honolulu-Denver-London route leaving Denver's travelers with the only solution of a first connection before reaching the Old Continent. Europe's largest single market, London, was obviously the prime target of DIA. Despite initial contacts in 1990s, it's not until 01 September 1998 that British Airways landed at Denver for the first time. The traffic would have been satisfying with two yearly peak periods with skiing season in the Rocky Mountains (March), and the summer holidays (July and August). United Airlines, Denver's dominant carrier with a 70+% market share intended to launch European flights from its Denver hub, and it announced it would launch a flight to London in April 2000. But the airline was not granted rights, and had to look elsewhere in Europe: a link to Frankfurt, the main base of UA's European partner Lufthansa was eyed by both airlines and highly supported by the airport authorities, proposing up to US$1 million in advertising incentives. Lufthansa initiated a daily service on 25 March 2001, receiving the US$1 million in marketing incentives and a US$700,000 landing fees waiver.

Denver airport is well-known for being an "hot'n'high" airfield, which has led to some technical problems for the operators, since the lift capacity of the airplanes is decreased. Airplanes either need to reduce their fare-paying payload -- and lose revenue -- or accelerate to a high speed -- which requires longer runways. In Denver's case, no runway was long enough for the heavy airplanes taking-off bound for Europe. The first idea the management found was to embed the lights located at the end of the runway into the ground to lengthen the existing runways (nearly 90ft gained). This has already diminished the technical restrictions, but a new 16,000ft runway is under construction and will be among the longest on earth for commercial use.

DIA hopes that these first links to Europe will show the way to other carriers, notably Air France from Paris, to place the airport in the US' top airports and make Denver a more attractive place to make business.

About the Author

Alain Mengus has contributed to various aviation publications and his the webmaster of He lives in Paris, France.


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