A CEO’s Insights

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The Importance of Nonstop International Flights to Europe

Metro Denver EDC and Denver International Airport (DIA) have been pursuing nonstop flights to European destinations since 1987. It wasn’t that we “loved” flying to London, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, and Stockholm—meeting with airlines in their home offices, attending their global conferences, and endeavoring to become friends with the people who determine where the “asset” is placed. 

The asset, of course, is an airplane. Where it flies, how frequently it flies, and how many passengers it carries can determine the economic future of a region. The margins of winning a new flight are tiny; a half of one percent more passengers in the plane can cause the gain or loss of a flight. The decision-making process is lengthy, the depth and complexity of data exchanged between the airlines’ route planners and the DIA staff during negotiations is massive.

Why Europe? Europe is Colorado’s biggest market and the United Kingdom is the single-largest customer in Europe. In 1987 business leaders determined that Metro Denver’s economic survival would be critically dependent upon global competitiveness and that growing Colorado’s economy based upon the U.S. economy was not sustainable over time. We looked at the distances that a fully loaded 747 plane could travel, departing Denver on a 90-degree day with low humidity.  The destinations we could reach were Japan, Europe, and Brazil, with Europe being the No. 1 priority. Within this triangle was 70 percent of the global GDP.

Also apparent was that “alliances” among international carriers would require strong hubs where alliance partners could rationalize services, jointly provide interchanges for passengers traveling globally, and offer more efficient flight schedules. Few people can perhaps remember that when DIA was being constructed as a hub airport, that a vocal group of opponents claimed that the “hub and spoke” system was outdated and that “point-to-point” travel—epitomized by Southwest Airlines—was the future of the airline industry. But they were wrong. Building DIA as a hub airport, coupled with a strong Star Alliance partner in United Airlines, was crucial to recruiting our first nonstop international flight – Lufthansa’s Denver to Frankfurt flight.

The Lufthansa and the British Airways flights that followed became the first leg of the “Triangle of World Dominance” leaders drew in 1987. The economic impact from these flights exceeds $200 million annually. The construction of the 16,000-foot runway—opened in 2003—ensured Denver’s ability to get nonstop international flights airborne every day and the region’s ability to compete globally.

Competition among global cities for these international flights is intense and requires significant incentives to win them. On numerous occasions, the Metro Denver EDC has provided cash incentives to assist DIA in its international flight-attraction efforts. When you read in the newspaper that an elected official or DIA staff member is flying somewhere in the globe to recruit new airline service to DIA, they are working for all of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region. They deserve a thank you from all of us.

After 27 years of recruiting international, nonstop flights, Denver now has service to Europe, Japan, and coming this December—a nonstop to Panama—where the refitted Canal is rearranging the globe’s logistic systems. What is important is that securing these crucial routes requires sustained efforts spanning decades. DIA staff and a dedicated business community, during the tenure of four Denver mayors, kept the importance of international flights in the forefront of the public agenda.   


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About Phil Kalin

Phil Kalin joined Pinnacol Assurance as CEO in 2013. He has served as the chief executive of both public and privately-backed companies, including large hospital systems, as well as organizations focused on health care data, technology and education. He has been active nationally on health care topics related to insurance, data analytics, technology innovation, cost improvement and risk mitigation. Phil is providing an informed opinion on what we see in the Monthly Economic Indicators.

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About Pinnacol

Pinnacol Assurance is the Metro Denver EDC's Research Sponsor. Pinnacol is Colorado’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance. Pinnacol provides comprehensive, competitively priced coverage; immediate attention to claims; a highly qualified network of medical providers; and proactive safety programs to more than 55,000 Colorado businesses. Annually, Pinnacol supports nearly $500 million of Colorado’s economic activity, spends over 35,000 hours keeping Colorado worksites safe and provides compassionate care to over 40,000 Coloradans injured on the job.

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