DIA budget projects 2023 traffic will exceed pre-pandemic levels

It would be a faster recovery than most other airports in the U.S.

Passengers throng the Great Hall at Denver International Airport as they wait to pass through the south security checkpoint on Friday, October 22, 2021.

Passengers throng the Great Hall at Denver International Airport as they wait to pass through the south security checkpoint on Friday, October 22, 2021.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
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The Denver International Airport (DEN) has proposed a $1.33 billion budget for next year, projecting that traffic will exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

That’s the fifth fastest airport recovery pace in the country, according to the research group Fitch Ratings. Only airports in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Miami, Fla., Boise, Idaho and Fort Meyers, Fla. had matched or exceeded 2019 rates by the end of the first fiscal quarter in 2022.

Denver is next in line.

Through August of 2022, DIA’s traffic was only 2 percent lower than before the pandemic. The airport expects to see 74 million passengers in 2023, higher than the 69 million in 2019.

“This is based on strong demand trends and the full availability of 39 new gates at the Airport,” wrote DIA officials in its budget presentation to City Council Wednesday. “Domestic leisure travel is recovering at a faster pace than business travel, and airports with large international market shares are lagging behind in recovery.”

The airport’s hotel figures match this assessment. According to the presentation, transient and leisure bookings were strong, but business and group revenue has lagged.

Atlanta and Dallas – the only two cities with airports busier than DIA – reached around 79 and 86 percent of their 2019 traffic by the end of March, respectively. Fitch Ratings reported that at that same point, Denver had reached around 97 percent.

The airport funds itself, which means it doesn’t get tax dollars from the city. Any revenue generated goes back into the airport. 

In 2021, DIA’s projected revenue and proposed budget for 2022 was $1.20 billion. Increased traffic projections for this upcoming year also mean increased revenue projections.

As for its priorities, DIA plans to add 30 jobs to meet increased passenger demand and respond to staffing shortages – an issue across the industry. Plus, there’s the latest capital improvement projects, expanding the concourse and redeveloping the Great Hall. In 2020, the airport paid out over $180 million to cut off ties with the group of original companies hired for the Great Hall renovations, after DIA found bad concrete throughout the terminal.

Other updates are on the way as well.

DIA received money from the federal infrastructure bill for improvements to its baggage system. At the budget hearing, airport officials said they plan to add vehicles to the train that takes passengers from security to the terminals. They also want to hire additional customer experience staff. In 2022, DIA ranked 14th in a customer satisfaction survey among large North American airports, dropping from 13th last year. In 2018, the airport ranked fourth.

Budget hearings continue throughout this week. City Council will host a public hearing on the budget on Oct. 24, and hold a final vote in early November.

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