Denver's Airport Passes Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Become the Fourth-busiest

Denver International Airport was the nation's fourth-busiest airport in January, based on domestic traffic, up from No. 6 a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The airport also reported having its busiest February ever, hosting more than 3.3 million passengers. DIA has set traffic records for 10 months in a row.

Southwest Airlines' entry into Denver has boosted traffic, producing the so-called "Southwest effect." The airline's introductory fares also have pushed down competitors' fares, increasing the number of passengers in planes.

To reach its No. 4 national ranking, Denver beat out Los Angeles, which held fourth place a year ago, and Las Vegas. While Denver's passenger traffic grew more than 8 percent in January, Los Angeles' traffic declined.

The nation's busiest airport was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.

If DIA maintains a high ranking throughout 2006, its biggest benefit will be bragging rights.

"DIA is the fourth-busiest airport in the country? That's huge," said Denver-based Frontier Airlines spokesman Joe Hodas.

Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said the airport doesn't track monthly national rankings, but added, "Anytime you're in the top 10, you're doing pretty well."

Also on Thursday, DIA reported a 10.5 percent increase in February's passenger traffic, a record for the month.

As traffic increased at the airport, its passenger mix also shifted. In February 2006, 33.2 percent of all DIA passengers were just passing through as they connected to other flights, down from 43.7 percent a year earlier. A growing number of passengers - 66.8 percent compared with 56.3 percent a year ago - are starting or ending their trips in Denver.

Cargo traffic at DIA fell 9.5 percent in February compared with a year earlier.

While it has a significantly smaller DIA presence than United or Frontier, Southwest has generated more demand for flying into and out of Denver.

Frontier had a 20.1 percent increase in passengers in February.

"There are many low fares available, and travelers obviously are taking advantage of the good buys," said DIA manager Turner West in a statement Thursday.

Increased traffic and the presence of Southwest have heightened competition among airlines in Denver. United and Frontier have added flights. Southwest began flying in January from Denver to Phoenix, Chicago and Las Vegas.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Frontier traffic increased on all three routes from Denver in January compared with a year earlier. United had an increase in traffic on its Denver-to-Phoenix and Denver-to-Chicago routes.

Frontier carried the most passengers from Denver to Chicago Midway, while United carried the most passengers from Denver to Las Vegas and Denver to Phoenix.

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