Denver International Airport is considering building up to eight new gates on Concourse C to meet future demand, a project that could cost up to $160 million.
The expansion would involve extending the east end of the concourse by a couple of hundred yards, adding restrooms and concessions, and possibly carving out basement space for baggage handling.
DIA says it is determining final costs and hammering out other aspects of the project, such as the exact number of gates it would build. Airport officials hope to make a final decision in coming months.
"We're reviewing our capacity needs to see if this would be the best solution for the long term," said Turner West, DIA's manager. "We think adding up to eight gates would help us meet our projected growth."
The expansion likely would take three years to complete, including one year for design work and two for construction. Concourse C currently has 22 gates, meaning the expansion could increase its capacity for flights by roughly 30 percent.
The new gates would be located on the side of the concourse where Southwest, AirTran, Midwest and Delta currently operate. In addition to giving those carriers more room to expand, the new gates could accommodate new airlines as well.
The project isn't tied to any airline in particular, West said. Rather, it's to meet projected demand.
"We don't have any immediate prospects," West said. "We're just trying to keep up with our phenomenal growth."
Southwest, which has four gates on the C concourse, could be a candidate for some of the new gates. The Dallas-based company has grown rapidly since starting service at DIA in January, adding a handful of new destinations and more than doubling its daily flights. Southwest has said it intends to continue expanding in Denver, although it hasn't announced any further plans.
"We've grown the service in Denver in just the short time we've been there, and our goal is to continue to do that," said Melanie Jones, a Southwest spokeswoman.
DIA estimates it will need to raise up to $160 million in funding, depending on the size and scope of the expansion.
The airport has several financing options available, including the possibility of issuing general airport revenue bonds, said Peter Stettler, an analyst with Fitch, a debt-rating agency.
Stettler said the project's price tag isn't "overly burdensome" for DIA.
"It's a reasonable amount of money, and if demand hits the levels they expect, the benefits should far outweigh the cost," Stettler said.
Airport officials are confident they can get favorable interest rates, pointing to DIA's solid bond ratings.
The project would be the airport's latest attempt to resolve concerns about gate space. DIA currently is building a regional jet facility for United Airlines on Concourse B, allowing the carrier to turn over its six gates on the A concourse to Frontier Airlines.
DIA also is in the process of updating its master plan to prepare for the next phase of growth, looking at everything from parking and security to runways and access.
The airport was built in the mid-1990s to handle 50 million passengers annually.
It's pushing that limit faster than officials projected even just a few years ago.
Traffic is on pace to hit roughly 48 million this year in the face of rapid growth among DIA's largest airlines and the arrival of Southwest.
As part of its immediate needs, DIA is looking for city approval to add four more cars to its internal passenger trains.
The project, estimated to cost about $10 million, would increase train capacity by 25 percent.
"Our family is outgrowing the house," said DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon. "We need to look at all areas of the airport."
ABCs of DIA
Denver International Airport has made several recent moves to ease a gate crunch on its concourses.
* Concourse A: Brokered deal in which fast-growing Frontier Airlines will take over United's six gates on the concourse, giving the Denver-based carrier plenty of room to grow.
The eight-gate expansion, expected to take about three years, needs approval from the Denver City Council.
At critical juncture, airport must balance growth, uncertainty
The project likely would be a "significant" expansion of the existing facility, which has nearly a dozen passenger-loading areas for airlines.
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.