NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Denver International Airport is one of deregulation's success stories, a major airport in a medium-sized city that is now acquiring the sorts of trophies that distinguish a leading 21 st century airport.
Most importantly, Denver is a United (UAL) hub with 375 daily departures to 145 destinations including 20 international cities. Yet United has only about 40% of the passengers at Denver International Airport, the fifth-largest U.S. airport with 53 million passengers in 2013, leaving room for lower fare carriers Southwest (LUV) and Denver-based Frontier to flourish as the second- and third-largest carriers.
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Still, United has sufficient traffic -- 15 million passengers through August, according to airport statistics -- to offer premium international destinations. It added Denver-Tokyo aboard a 213-seat Boeing (BA) 787 Dreamliner in March 2013, providing another example of a route where a relatively small long-range aircraft can fill a niche. The distance is 5,787 miles.
Next up is Panama City. Daily service will begin Dec. 3, with a 118-seat Boeing 737-700. Panama City is a hub for United's Star Alliance partner COPA, just as Tokyo is a hub for Star Alliance member ANA.
Coming in 2016 is the completion of a $1.5 billion, 22-mile extension of Denver's light rail system to the airport, a particularly significant event for the airport, which is 25 miles from downtown, requiring a $55 cab ride. A 500-room hotel will be built atop the airport light rail stop.
"No great city with a great airport is without a train system to the airport," said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Corp., the principal backer of the 2004 campaign for a sales tax increase to fund the system.
"The idea behind the transit line was that the Federal Transit administration had competition nationally for public private partnership demonstration project," Clark said. "Sixteen (competitors) tried to put together a proposal. None of the other regions could get in line."
But in Denver, environmentalists and business groups were unified in behalf of the project, he said, noting that "business people don't walk precincts, but environmentalists do."