Clark's Cone of Silence

A unique look at economic development in the region

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DIA was being constructed as a hub airport, that a vocal group of opponents claimed that the “hub and spoke” system was outdated and that “point-to-point” travel—epitomized by Southwest Airlines—was the future of the airline industry.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 Tom Clark

Tom has over 30 years of economic development experience at the state, regional, and local levels, spanning from Illinois to Colorado. He is known both for his quips and his candor. Often quoted in the local and national press on Metro Denver’s economy, his iPhone is his most valued possession next to his Les Paul guitar. He is also famous for writing parody songs, maintaining an orderly office, and funding the office swear jar. Tom says that if wasn’t an economic developer, his dream would be to work in a chocolate factory.

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About The Cone of Silence

Invented by Professor Cone from TV’s "Get Smart," the Cone of Silence was designed to protect the most secret of conversations by enshrouding its users within a transparent sound-proof shield. Unfortunately, from experience, we have also learned that it never works properly. This blog offers those outside our “Cone of Silence” a unique look at economic development in the region.

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