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Aviation - Denver shows the Way

Airports everywhere have suffered and continue to suffer greatly from the dramatic downturn in traffic, with passenger flights almost coming to a complete halt not just within the USA but worldwide. Denver International Airport Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kim Day says that, at least in Colorado however, things are beginning to look up.

'As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 and understanding the ways we can keep one another safe while we wait patiently to return to “normal,” Denver International Airport (DEN) is also looking toward the future. While the outlook for our industry is uncertain, DEN has good news to share in terms of our recovery to date. We remain focused on providing the best and safest experience for our employees and for those who have a need to travel today or will again in the future.

Despite the industry-wide impact of COVID-19, DEN is recovering stronger than most large U.S. airports and our financial strength coming into the pandemic is helping immensely. By entering the pandemic with 700 days of operating cash on hand, DEN was well positioned to adapt to the sharp decrease in passenger traffic. By taking aggressive action to reduce $50 million of our operating costs, plan for a slow recovery and use our federal assistance money to help cover our debt service, we quickly developed a conservative and nimble plan on which to rely during this uncertain time. Fortunately, our traffic has been more robust than we predicted, and we are now performing ahead of our original financial projections. We received good news recently when S&P affirmed DEN’s A+ long-term rating despite most large U.S. airports being downgraded by them.'

The Jeppesen Terminal's spectacular roof

'Specifically, S&P noted that “DEN’s overall financial risk profile is unchanged at strong,” in part due to DEN’s “extremely strong management and governance, reflective of a management team that has a steady track record of successfully managing the airport.”

In addition to our strong financial foothold, our passenger traffic has been performing above the national average. We see this reflected in the number of passengers who pass through our TSA checkpoints – which is a real-time metric of our strong recovery. In the worst week in April, passenger traffic was down 95% at DEN. Now, I’m pleased to share that in July and August, more people passed through DEN’s TSA checkpoints than any other U.S. airport. In fact, while across the nation the volume through TSA checkpoints in August was down by an average of 71%, in Denver our year-over-year TSA volume is currently down about 57% from 2019.

Left - CEO Kim Day

DEN’s recovery can be attributed to our region’s strong domestic demand profile and the robust domestic route network we’ve worked hard to build. Our airline partners are also showing confidence in DEN. Of the top 20 U.S. airports, Denver experienced the smallest year-over-year capacity decline in the month of August. Denver saw 72% of 2019 capacity operate in August 2020, compared to the average of just 49% for the 20 busiest U.S. airports. This same trend carries through into September, as DEN is scheduled to retain the most capacity of our peer airports.

Even during these trying times, we’re pleased to report that airlines are adding routes and service to Denver. In August, United, Southwest, Alaska and Allegiant all announced new service from DEN to begin this fall. Additionally, the airlines who have leased the new gates that are part of DEN’s Gate Expansion project have all confirmed they intend to use those gates as soon as they come online in 2022.

One of the airport's distinctive features is the bridge connecting the Jeppesen Terminal to Concourse A

Though travel to international destinations has been slower to return, some airlines have resumed service between DEN and Canada and Mexico. At this time, five carriers are providing nonstop flights to six international destinations. DEN anticipates additional international service to resume as governments lift restrictions and demand for international travel returns.

As we all adapt to a new way of life, DEN is planning for a post-COVID world. We are looking to long-term, innovative solutions to eliminate the spread of germs and improve the passenger experience by providing more touchless options. We will share more information on this soon. By ensuring passenger safety, we can continue to buoy our recovery and help our region’s recovery as well.'

Airport Info

Denver International Airport (DEN) has six runways – five measure 12,000 feet in length (3,600 meters), and the sixth measures 16,000 feet – more than three miles long (4,800 meters). The 16,000-foot long runway 16R/34L is the longest commercial runway in North America. With 53 square miles (137.8 square kilometers) of land, DEN is one of the few major U.S. airports with room to expand its current facilities to accommodate future growth. DEN has capacity for six additional runways, for a total of 12 runways when they are needed.

DEN currently has 111 gates with 38 ground load positions. Passengers access the gates via three concourses, A, B and C. To reach the A Gates, passengers can choose to walk over a pedestrian bridge or take the passenger train. Access to B and C Gates is limited to the passenger train.

The Jeppesen Terminal at DEN features 1.5 million square feet of space, and includes passenger ticketing, baggage claim, ground transportation, international arrivals, shops and restaurants, office areas and the TSA security checkpoints. Jeppesen Terminal’s internationally recognized peaked roof, designed by Fentress Bradburn Architects, is reflective of snow-capped mountains and evokes the early history of Colorado when Native American teepees were located across the Great Plains. The terminal space includes the following areas:

  • Passenger Facilities Ticketing – Level 6

  • Passenger Drop-off – Level 6

  • Baggage Claim – Level 5

  • Ground Transportation – Level 5

  • Passenger Pick-up – Level 4

  • International Arrivals – Level 5 north

  • Security Screening: three locations in the terminal (north, south and A bridge checkpoints)

  • Automated “people mover” underground train serving the terminal and gate areas

The airport is consistently named a passenger favourite, and has received dozens of national and international awards for excellence.

All images courtesy of Denver International Airport

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