Nonstop international flights are sought-after jewels for airports - enticements that deliver more business travelers and commerce.
Denver International Airport offers a relatively paltry selection of nonstop international flights overseas, serving only London and Frankfurt, Germany, with direct routes.
But DIA and economic-development officials are giddy about the prospects of the airport's first Denver-Munich route that will begin operating to the German city March 31. They say the nonstop flight will enhance Denver's ability to lure business travelers, companies on the move and cargo business.
Further, the flight, by carrier Lufthansa, will help Denver groom its appeal as an international destination, said Jayne Buck, vice president of tourism at the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It creates an image that this must be a big American city," she said.
International flights are enticing to companies that are considering whether to open offices or do business in a city. Business travelers especially prefer nonstop flights because it minimizes their travel time.
"In this day and age, the shortest distance between two points is a nonstop flight," said Jim Reis, president of World Trade Center Denver.
For shipment of valuable product, nonstop air cargo helps move goods faster, which is attractive for suppliers who want to see a payment sooner.
"You usually don't get paid until the product arrives," Reis said.
Already, the new Denver-Munich flight is expected to generate $108 million in annual economic impact, which should provide plenty of incentive to pursue more direct overseas routes in the future, Denver proponents say.
"Direct international flights are an important element in any city that has world aspirations," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
But while DIA has long-term ambitions to generate a nonstop Asian flight, as well as reach other European cities, such efforts won't necessarily be easy to achieve.
D not-so-I A
DIA has long been lean on the "International" in its name.
Aside from its London and Frankfurt flights and the soon-to-start Munich flight, the rest of DIA's nonstop international flights are to Mexico and Canada.
"I think people did expect when we built DIA that all of a sudden we'd have 15 different international airlines here," Reis said.
United Airlines, the largest carrier at DIA, however, launches the majority of its direct flights to Europe out of Chicago and Washington, D.C. For Asia flights, the airline uses hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"To start a whole new international base here would be a very big expense to them," Reis said.
And there are several well-
established international locations in the U.S. that people are conditioned to fly into, such as San Francisco and New York.
"They have very large population bases, large business bases," Clark said.
As DIA officials try to expand the airport's international service, they face tough competition with domestic airports in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, as well as cities around the world.
"We compete with Beijing, Bombay; we're competing now with places in the Middle East," said Sally Covington, a DIA deputy manager.
In port cities such as Los Angeles and Long Beach in California and Charleston, S.C., international trade is visible to residents across the economic strata.
"They understand international trade and what it means to the economy," Reis said. "So those types of cities tend to have a more welcoming climate for international trade."
Another disadvantage for Denver is that airlines "tend to think in concentric circles: What does the population look like as you go out 100 miles, 200 miles, 300 miles?" Reis said. "We all know it gets rural pretty quickly outside of Denver."
That means Denver must depend on passengers flying into a hub to support an international route.
United Airlines will launch nonstop service this spring between Denver and London, becoming the second carrier to fly the route and boosting DIA's roster of international flights. The nation's...
DIA officials said the $2 million incentive package for Lufthansa is worth it since the daily flight is expected to generate about $19 million a year in direct economic benefits.
New agreement could help pave the way for nonstop flights from Denver
Some of the best airports abroad are also known for expansive "aerotropolis" developments - in which a miniature city develops around an airport - and fancy amenities, particularly at on-site hotels.