Oct. 20--SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The future looks sunny at Denver International Airport, with passenger traffic growing steadily and only a slight chance of turbulence ahead.
That's the forecast from aviation consultant Mike Boyd, who analyzes the future health of the nation's airports as part of his annual aviation forecast conference, being held in Savannah.
This year he predicted as many as 25.9 million passengers could board planes at Denver International Airport in 2011, up 22 percent from the 21.2 million passengers who departed from DIA in 2004.
The only factor that could interrupt the growth is the unlikely chance that United Airlines could make major cutbacks, Boyd said. United is DIA's largest carrier.
It's a strong economic picture for Denver, said Boyd, who heads Evergreen-based The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm.
DIA could retain its spot as the nation's fifth-busiest airport or come in No. 6 or No. 7.
An important factor in DIA's health is the performance of regional jet flights. High fuel costs could decrease their productive value, Boyd said.
Other factors include how much Frontier continues to focus on Denver and the specter of United flight reductions.
"There is a downside forecast we have to look at," Boyd said. If United cuts back on flights, it could mean a decline to as few as 20.4 million passengers getting on planes in 2011.
United spokesman Jeff Green said United is committed to its hub in Denver.
"We have no plans to reduce our service to or from the Denver airport," he said.
He said United is now looking for opportunities for growth.
DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon said the airport would be happy with 2 to 3 percent growth each year, which it's on track to hit this year.
He said construction of a new regional jet facility at DIA could begin in the next month or so. The facility could have 34 gates off the east end of the B concourse.
"We're talking with United, and they look like they're going to be successfully emerging from bankruptcy," Cannon said. "The indication is that they want that facility and it's going to go forward." Frontier has little room to expand, however, so "some possible solutions are being talked about," he said.
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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 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.
DIA will spend $41.5 million to upgrade and expand United's regional jet facility on the east end of Concourse B. The airport also will pay off $110 million in debt related to United's failed...