Local transportation officials say Denver's voter-approved $2.3 billion airport should have little effect on the operation of the Salt Lake International Airport or Delta Air Lines.
Denver voters authorized the city government to secure federal grants, sell bonds and begin a four-year construction program for the new airport on Tuesday. The airport will be located 20 miles northeast of the city's downtown area.Louis Miller, Salt Lake City's director of airports, said Delta and the city have each invested a great deal of money in the airline's Salt Lake hub. It is highly unlikely that the new airport would lure Delta to Denver, he said. "Our eggs are really in Utah's basket," said Fred Rollins, Delta's district marketing manager.
The airline employs approximately 4,000 people. Rollins said Delta's annual payroll and fees paid to operate at the Salt Lake airport total more than $250 million each year.
"We have 8 to 9 percent of our overall corporate resources invested in Utah in terms of employees and equipment," Rollins said.
The Denver airport is expected to open in 1994.
"I don't really think it's going to affect us. We're going full steam ahead with or without them," Rollins said. "We do serve Denver but we're committed to Utah."
Miller said the airport's master plan does not take into consideration changes in Denver's system.
"There is no need for us to be concerned with what's going on in Denver," Miller said. "Salt Lake is going to grow on its own."
Delta has a solid base in Salt Lake City, Miller said.
"There's no way another carrier could come in here and develop a hub as large as Delta's," he said.
From a transportation standpoint, Miller said a new Denver airport will improve air travel across the country.
During peak travel time, passengers are often stranded at Stapleton International Airport because of weather delays. When the flights are delayed in Colorado, flights originating in Salt Lake City, which either connect to other flights in Denver or terminate there, also are delayed.
Unlike Stapleton, each of the new airport's five runways has been designed to accommodate instrument flight landings without causing other parts of the airport to shut down for safety reasons.
"I applaud the city and county for what this will do for the whole transportation system," Miller said.
The planned airport will have two concourses with 94 boarding gates, which could be expanded to 120.
Paul Dempsey, a professor at the University of Denver's School of Law who has written two papers on airline deregulation, said during a telephone interview Tuesday it makes good financial sense for Delta to remain in Salt Lake City.
"Delta will likely stay in Salt Lake City because of its hub opportunities and the power it can exert to raise fares," Dempsey said.
Recent studies indicate that "monopoly hubs appear to have significantly higher prices than in competitive markets," so it would not be profitable for Delta to relocate its operations to a multihub market, Dempsey said.
Ken Plowman, government affairs director of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, said Delta has a significant financial and personal investment in the community.
"I don't have the feeling they'd pull out," Plowman said.