Denver Mulls Adding Gates for Smaller Planes

Denver International Airport, which opens its United Express regional jet facility today, is considering a similar addition on the C concourse.

Airport officials are discussing whether to build the new area that would handle smaller planes, such as regional jets and turboprop aircraft.

The project could cost an estimated $40 million to $50 million and likely would be similar in size to the United Express facility, which has 16 gates and is on the B concourse.

"We're almost out of available gate space" at the airport, DIA Manager Turner West said after a news conference celebrating the completion of the United regional jet center. "In life and business you can't stand still, and we're not going to either."

The project is just a possibility, but it is part of DIA's larger effort to prepare for growth and update its master plan.

Construction of another area for smaller planes could coincide with a previously announced move to add 10 gates to the C concourse, which will cost an estimated $160 million. Airport officials say that expansion will take about three years to complete.

"We're thinking that it may be necessary to build both simultaneously," West said.

The facility likely would be built to allow carriers to add jet bridges - which connect planes to the concourse - if they chose to. Many regional and commuter flights require passengers to board smaller planes by walking outside on the tarmac.

Although DIA worked closely with United Airlines on the opening today, West said the airport isn't collaborating with one particular carrier on the potential expansion on the C concourse.

Carriers on that concourse include giants American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, as well as smaller ones such as Midwest Airlines and Big Sky Airlines. Southwest Airlines - the largest carrier on the concourse, with five gates - wouldn't use the new facility anytime soon, as it doesn't fly small planes.

Evergreen aviation consultant Mike Boyd expressed skepticism about building any type of regional jet or commuter-type area without firm backing from an airline.

"I wouldn't build regional jet gates unless someone like United wants them," Boyd said. "Regional jets are not the wave of the future."

DIA also is talking with Frontier Airlines about building a similar facility on the A concourse.

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