Denver International Airport set a record for passenger traffic in 2005, when more than 43 million people used the airport.
DIA's total of 43,387,513 passengers last year was up 2.6 percent from the 42,275,913 passengers who passed through DIA in 2004, the previous record.
The pattern of steady growth indicates strength in local and regional economies, DIA co-manager Vicki Braunagel said.
"People are now taking vacations," and companies are sending employees on business trips, DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon said.
Another factor is competition, he said.
"There are some really good fares out there," he said.
Separately, Denver fell from its No. 1 ranking in on-time arrival performance in 2004 to No. 3 in 2005, dropping behind Salt Lake City and Cincinnati. Last year, 82.45 percent of flights arrived on time in Denver, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Denver also fell in on-time departure performance, from No. 5 in 2004 to No. 11.
Airline travel at other airports around the country is also on the rise, and DIA may lose its ranking as the fifth-busiest airport in the nation to Las Vegas.
Denver came in No. 6, down from No. 5 in the same period of 2004, in the most recent ranking of airports by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics covering January 2005 through October, based on the number of domestic passengers boarding planes. Las Vegas was No. 5, while Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta was the busiest airport in the country.
In a worldwide ranking by Airports Council International for January 2005 through October, Denver came in No. 11, down from its No. 10 position in 2004, based on passenger traffic.
But DIA has better air service than Las Vegas and Phoenix, another close contender, because of United Airlines' and Frontier Airlines' hubs in Denver, Evergreen aviation consultant Mike Boyd said.
"The real value of an airport is you get to where you want to get" based on factors including the number of cities you can fly to and the frequency of flights, Boyd said.
And much of Denver's passenger traffic is made up of connecting passengers on United Airlines who do not leave the airport.
"These rankings of passengers - all that tells you is how fast your carpet's getting worn out," Boyd said.
Braunagel and co-manager Turner West expect as many as 1.5 million more passengers through DIA this year, with traffic stimulated by newcomer Southwest Airlines and others. If that happens, it could mean nearly 45 million passengers in 2006.
Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-820-1488 or email@example.com. ---------------------------- On-time rank slips
Denver International Airport was third in the nation in on-time arrival performance in 2005, down from first the year before:
1.....Salt Lake City....83.46%....
7.....Phoenix Sky Harbor....81.08%....
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
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Southwest Airlines' entry into Denver has boosted traffic, producing the so-called "Southwest effect."
To reacquire the gates, DIA will give United a one-time $10 million credit on what the airline pays for the automated baggage system at the airport.
With 31.5 million passengers getting on or off planes, the airport ranked 25th-busiest in the world last year, compared with No. 30 in 2004.
The state's largest airport also ranked No. 2 in on-time departures, just .06 percent behind No. 1 Houston.