Denver International Airport looking to expand international flights to unserved markets |

Denver International Airport looking to expand international flights to unserved markets

Denver International Airport has the second largest network within the United States, with 180 destinations. Dallas/Fort Worth has the largest domestic network with flights to 181 cities. Having a strong network within the U.S. is important for attracting international flights, and DIA serves as a hub for international travel offering flights to 12 countries.
Andy Cross | The Denver Post | THE DENVER POST


• Denver International Airport is the fifth busiest airport in North America and the 20th busiest in the world.

• DIA offers 180 nonstop destinations domestically and 26 internationally in 12 countries.

• The airport in Denver sees a demand for 35 million domestic passengers annually and 3.2 million international passengers.

VAIL — As part of the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference held at Vail’s Hotel Talisa at the end of October, industry leaders discussed the role of flights in driving international travel.

The overall message is that Denver International Airport is well established within the United States, but the focus will be on creating more international flights.

“We’d like a flight to Amsterdam. We’d like a flight to Dublin. We’d like more service to Asia,” among other international destinations on the airport’s radar, said Laura Jackson, vice president of air service development and aviation research for Denver International Airport.

Jackson, who conducts research and negotiations with airlines on a regular basis, uses data and trends when trying to get more airlines and flights to DIA.

“We all know tourism doesn’t happen unless they can get here,” said moderator Jayne Buck, of Visit Denver. “Denver International Airport is the driver that allows us to continue to push international tourism.”


DIA, an airport with 35,000 total employees, will celebrate 25 years in 2020 and is the largest economic driver for the state, Jackson said, adding $26 billion annually to the state’s economy.

A total of 24 airlines provide about 1,600 daily scheduled flights to more than 190 nonstop destinations, with more than 60 million passengers annually. Of the 24 airlines at DIA, 11 are non-U.S. carriers and offer a variety of domestic and international travel.

DIA has the second largest domestic network with 180 destinations — Dallas/Fort Worth is No. 1 with 181.

“We’re ahead of Las Vegas, Orlando and other many large cities that have a lot of inbound tourism,” Jackson said. “That’s because we’re also a very big draw for tourism, as well as the high propensity to travel of our population.”

A strong domestic network is critical for landing international flights, Jackson said, because it’s a chance to fill planes with other travelers outside of Denver.

In the United States, DIA has direct service to 46 states and the District of Columbia — West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Delaware are not on that list.

DIA ranks as the fifth busiest airport in the United States and the 20th in the world.

“Airlines are really seeing great growth potential in Denver. It’s not just one airline,” Jackson said. “They’re adding service to the east and adding service to the west.”

DIA provides nonstop service to 94 of its top 100 in-demand destinations domestically, with competitive pricing in 49 of the top 50.

“In fact, they’re more than 20 percent lower than the U.S. average because we have such competitive service to all markets,” Jackson said of prices. “This is great for tourism because it’s really cheap and easy to get to Denver.”

In the past year or so, DIA has added 20 new flights, some to new locations such as Jackson, Mississippi; Harlingen, Texas; and Fairbanks, Alaska.

“It’s really exciting to add all of these new dots to our map,” Jackson said.

Of the top 50 markets domestically, DIA has three or more carriers operating flights to and from 48 of the cities. The top unserved markets include Rochester, New York; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and West Palm Beach, Florida.


DIA provides service to 26 international markets in 12 countries.

Mexico is currently the largest international market by country, with about 24 percent of the market share. Canada is second with 12 percent, but if Europe is lumped together, then it would account for 33 percent.

Cancun is the largest market — mostly people from Colorado heading to the warmer weather in Mexico. Flights to and from London are the second largest market internationally for DIA, with more than 500 people per day traveling on those flights, Jackson said.

Domestically, DIA is stout in providing multiple airlines to multiple destinations, but internationally, it’s a little thinner.

“That’s why we spend a lot of our time out promoting Denver, trying to gain new international service,” Jackson said.

Domestically, there’s a demand for about 35 million passengers — internationally, there’s about 3.2 million.

A number of new carriers and destinations help add more demand.

DIA started a flight to Tokyo five years ago. A look at who’s on those flights shows why domestic connectivity is so important. About 19 percent of those on board the flights to and from Tokyo are just traveling between the two destinations. On a 219-seat aircraft, those passengers can’t be expected to fill the plane. The rest of the plane is filled with people connecting on to other destinations.

“That’s why our domestic hub is so important,” Jackson said. “We need all passengers to feed into the Tokyo flight from all of those domestic cities and connect and use this flight to get to Tokyo.”

When pitching to airlines to bring new service to Denver, Jackson presents a plethora of data looking at demand and who’s on board, as well as alliances between airlines, which provides a connectivity that airlines operating alone can’t provide. DIA also offers incentive programs to help encourage airlines to choose them, anything from $2 million to $6 million.

“When we’re going out to try to convince an airline to fly to Denver, we’re competing with cities around the world,” Jackson said.

For example, with a possible Amsterdam flight that has a 12-hour radius, DIA is competing with airports in Dallas and Atlanta, as well as Cairo and Singapore.

The largest unserved international markets are Amsterdam, Dublin and Rome. Most of the unserved international markets are in Europe and Latin America, but there’s also struggles getting into China.

The United States has open skies agreements with more than 120 countries in the world, meaning airlines can decide where to fly and how often. However, China and the U.S. do not have that type of agreement; instead, they use a bilateral aviation agreement that limits American carriers and frequencies in China, and vice versa. However, Jackson said she is hopeful to see some flights to China in the next two to four years. Seoul, South Korea, could be an opportunity to get passengers closer to that part of the world in the meantime.

The recent Paris flight has been successful, reaching a demand of five people per seat, Jackson said.

“Paris has just been growing tremendously, and we’re underserved to Paris,” she said. “We’re the most underserved U.S. market to Paris.”


Jackson said to set up a new flight can take two to 10 years, with the Tokyo flight closer to the 10-year mark.

New aircraft technology could soon make longer-range flights possible, such as the 18-hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to Doha, Qatar, that is operating now.

With the Denver-Tokyo flight celebrating five years, Jackson has her sights set on Asia.

“I really want another flight to Asia before we celebrate 10 years,” she said of the Tokyo anniversary.

At the Denver airport itself, construction is underway to add 39 new gates across all three concourses, as well as a re-designed Great Hall and security area. All upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

“I apologize for all of the construction we have going on, but in a few years, it will all be worth it,” Jackson said.


Jackson said there is a 3.2 million passenger demand to and from Denver internationally, and outside of DIA, there’s a 300,000 passenger demand at the other Colorado airports.

While some airports have technical challenges, such as shorter runways and altitude, DIA serves as the hub.

“All air service to all airports in Colorado helps us all grow and be better,” Jackson said. “Local airports are really important, and we have service to all of the commercial service airports in Colorado into Denver.”

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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