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for people who care about the West

Airports show difference between Denver and Utah


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, The West sings the Denver airport blues.

It'll be far more expensive for airlines to operate at Denver's new airport than at other airports in the West - which puts the Denver hub at a new disadvantage. To recoup the higher charges, airlines are likely to raise fares on any flight that touches Denver.

Like apples to oranges, comparing one airport to another is tricky, because airports use different bookkeeping methods - certain fuel charges may be figured separately, for instance. But Denver's mega-airport is like a one-ton orange; the disparity goes beyond bookkeeping.

Airlines using Denver International Airport this year will be charged at least $18.50 per passenger (a steep hike from the $6.50 they're paying at Denver's old airport, Stapleton).

At Las Vegas' glitzy airport the charge is about $6 per passenger. Airports at Colorado Springs, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth - the latter a national hub that competes with Denver for the long-haul connecting flyer - range from $5.85 to $4.

Salt Lake International will be a real bargain, charging airlines about $3 per passenger. Sam Saeva, finance director at Salt Lake's airport, says matter-of-factly, "It's very cheap to operate here."

The philosphical difference between the two cities, Denver and Salt Lake, shows in the airports. Both have faced record growth in traffic (Denver eight years ago, Salt Lake today); Denver exercised its mega-ambition, while Salt Lake exercised Mormon-style frugality and merely expanded its old airport with another runway.

"Utah is noted for being a fiscally conservative state," says Buzz Hunt, marketing director at the Salt Lake airport. "The predominant view is that we do things incrementally, in the most cost-effective way." Saeva agrees, "We don't waste anything. The staff talks about it, in the manner of, we don't tear up that piece of concrete if we can fix it one more time."