Denver vs. the West

  Six months after its grand opening, pricey Denver International Airport continues to shake up air travel around the West (HCN, 1/23/95). First, the cost of building and doing business at the mega-airport helped persuade Continental Airlines to all but abandon the Rocky Mountains. Now, blaming the same unprofitable dynamics, the commuter airline, GP Express, is also abandoning the Denver hub and the region. By September, Colorado's West Slope and Wyoming will be left with only one connection, to the Denver hub - United Express - which "could drive up airfares and cost the (rural) tourism industry millions of dollars," reports the Denver Post. Fares at the Denver hub have already risen 40 percent on average from a year ago, with United Airlines now operating like a monopoly there. Travelers looking to save money are flying through other hubs or driving, and the Denver hub's passenger flow is down at least 5 percent from a year ago, when Denver operated the old but affordable Stapleton Airport. Competing hubs such as Colorado Springs (traffic in June was up nearly 70 percent from June a year ago) and Salt Lake City (up 6 percent) are enjoying the shift of air travelers. The Colorado ski-resort town, Telluride, where 15,000 visitors last season flew in by GP Express, could lose $15 million next season if another airline doesn't fill the niche. As resort spokesman Mike Shimkonis put it, "We're controlled by two factors: air service and the weather, neither of which we have any control over."

*Ray Ring