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.
"Hub to hub" flights
The Munich route was attainable because of Lufthansa's link with United Airlines through the Star Alliance, which makes it easier for United passengers to connect to Lufthansa and allows them to use and earn United miles on Lufthansa.
Other factors came into play.
Munich is a Lufthansa hub, meaning the Denver-Munich flight is a "hub to hub" flight, drawing from passengers connecting from both sides of the Atlantic.
Lufthansa also wanted to add more capacity from Denver but faced constraints in Frankfurt. Plans for an additional runway there are in the works, but the expansion is far off, which made Munich a better option, said Lufthansa regional sales manager Harry Huff.
Covington says the Munich flight is not just another German flight but "another continental Europe flight," since passengers can connect from there to other cities, particularly in southern and Eastern Europe.
"We were surprised by the number of companies that told us they were going to be doing business in Italy and (Munich) was going to be their jumping off point," Clark said. "It also might be a little bit less expensive for people to fly directly there."
Since securing the Munich flight, Denver officials have turned their attention to attracting a nonstop Tokyo flight - considered to be the most important target, though likely years from becoming a reality.
"Tokyo is a gateway into Asia for us," Covington said.
Other possible direct routes to Asia include Seoul, South Korea; Hong Kong; Bangkok, Thailand; and Taipei, Taiwan.
Looking toward Europe, DIA officials hope to one day see flights to Manchester, England; Rome; Paris; and Amsterdam, Netherlands, for which DIA is offering incentives as it did for the Munich flight, but only for this year.
Economic development officials are revising their strategy in Asia and are considering hiring someone in Japan instead of contracting for a Denver representative there, Clark said.
"Any medium- to large-size company that we deal with today has some international commerce," he said. "Every one asks, 'Where do you go, who's the airline, and why aren't you flying to Asia?"'
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