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Interview with Kim Day, Denver International Airport

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Ms Kim Day is CEO of Denver International Airport:

“We don’t know what the next new thing is going to be, but we do know it is an ever-changing landscape and we need to be ready for it, by remaining flexible and nimble.”

Denver International Airport has proposed a $1.8 billion partnership for a terminal renovation which includes the relocation of all security screening and modernization of the checkpoints with faster technology. What other improvements will we see at Denver International Airport?

The project you refer to is called the “Great Hall” and is focused on improving our passengers’ experiences. It will result in an improved security process featuring new technology and a modernized facility, more and higher-quality concessions, upgraded check-in facilities, and two great pre-security waiting areas for domestic and international flyers. The project will include many other upgrades, such as new escalators, restrooms, signage, a children’s play area and an “express” curbside drop-off location adjacent to the TSA checkpoints. At the same time as we are modernizing and improving the terminal, we will also be increasing its capacity by about 30 per cent. In parallel, we are working on a robust plan for gate expansion to match the capacity increase in the terminal. To do that, we will grow each of the three concourses, delivering over 20 gates by 2020, as requested by our airlines. We are also adding two train sets to the terminal/concourse train to provide a proportional capacity increase.

Clearly you can see that we are experiencing strong growth, this year up over seven per cent year on year through July, with a robust 65 per cent O&D component. In response, we are also beginning to look at widening our access road, Peña Boulevard, and assessing the timing for our seventh runway, as well as deciding where to put it. (What a luxury of land we have!) Speaking of all that land (137.8 square kilometres), we have just completed a thoughtful Land Use Plan, and are beginning to look at opportunities for commercial development on-airport. Almost half of our land will never be needed for operational airport use, so we have a great potential for development, including transit-oriented projects, commercial/office space, hotel and conference facilities and recreational opportunities.


The Great Hall project was approved last August and is expected to start in summer 2018. In what ways will the passenger experience change once completion is reached in late 2021?

To start with, this project will create a new south “front door” to the terminal from the plaza, hotel and transit centre. This pre-security area will be a relaxing meeting and greeting area with some surrounding shops and restaurants. On the north side of the terminal we will have a smaller, but lovely international welcome area, a similar concept with a meeting and greeting area offering food, retail, flight info and money exchange.  From the new south entrance on the fifth level, passenger circulation will be clear and linear, and passengers will proceed up one level to an improved ticket lobby, then further to the new passenger screening area.

This project will fundamentally change the passenger screening experience. Where today our passengers queue in an area exposed from above, the redevelopment of the terminal will include a new enclosed security area and a much-improved process, which could become the new prototype for airport screening in the U.S. Not only will this screening area include the latest technology (hopefully including CTX scanners), it will also eliminate the need to queue in a long line. Instead, passengers will be assigned to enclosed areas that relate to pairs of lanes where they will wait with 20 to 30 people in a secure, private space. This also gives TSA the ability to make risk-based assignments, which could improve the efficiency of their screening activities.

Once through security, a passenger will be able to walk to the Concourse A gates, or descend into what I believe will be a remarkable post-security area of concessions and experiential opportunities on their way to the train to the concourses.

Our team is putting tremendous care and consideration into how each element of the terminal affects the overall passenger experience. We are confident that, when this project is completed in 2021, Denver will offer one of the most efficient and enjoyable passenger experiences in the country.


The Great Hall contract represents Denver city government’s first major public-private partnership for a city-owned building. Is PPP now the best formula for airport management?

There is no one model that is the best for all projects, but this unique project lends itself to this delivery method. The remodelling of our terminal will be implemented while we maintain 24/7 operations. This requires a complex phasing scheme, which leads to the value of a single firm designing and building the project and taking on the risk of on-time and on-budget delivery. At the same time, we are looking for an enhanced concessions and passenger experience, so we looked to industry to find expertise that could transform our terminal. After their success at Heathrow and other places, Ferrovial will lead this transformation and operate the concessions for the subsequent 30 years, contributing their management expertise to our team. Clearly airports have limited resources, and putting a P3 partner’s money to work helps us to use our capital for other programmes, but this was not the driver for us. We wanted outside expertise in development and operations, as well as the risk transfer on cost and schedule.  This was the right formula for this specific project.


Denver International Airport is the sixth-busiest airport in the United States with 58.3 million passengers, and last July was the airport’s busiest month in Denver aviation history. The data is clear and the figures are expected to grow. How will you combine this growth in traffic with investment in sustainability? What are DIA’s sustainability objectives for the coming future?

Like every airport in the U.S., we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, and I am happy to say we have already come a long way. Between the generation of about seven per cent of our electricity demand with on-airport solar arrays, the LEED Platinum certification of our hotel and transit centre and LEED Gold for our new fire house, the ISO 14001 certification for our campus-wide environmental management system and our social programmes, including food donation and outreach to minority and women-owned small businesses, we have a vast and robust sustainability programme. The Great Hall programme augments this effort, including in the most basic sense the reuse of an existing structure, taking it to a higher and better (and larger capacity) use. As we do the renovation, we will upgrade all the systems from 1990-ish technology to state-of-the-art, energy-saving elements, and expect to achieve at least LEED Silver certification. Our gate expansion programme will similarly be focused on sustainability. We are also looking at further power generation and micro-grid technology as we build out our Land Plan.

It is worth noting that despite our passenger growth, we have decreased the waste we generate and take to the landfill by 3.6 per cent as we have increased our diversion rate to an all-time high.  


Denver International Airport is well known and admired by travellers worldwide because of its revolutionary design. Why is airport architecture so important to making an airport unique in the world?

First and foremost, airport architecture has to support a great passenger experience in terms of easy and intuitive circulation, coupled with a low-stress, pleasant atmosphere.

But airports, done right, can be more than just a great place of transit. They can reflect a region’s culture and create an iconic brand that promotes pride in their community and signals their economic importance to a region.

When DIA was designed more than 22 years ago, it was a marvel of modern architecture and functionality. The “good bones” of our plan has positioned Denver to grow in a way that most U.S. airports cannot. At the same time, the iconic tent structure helped to put Denver on the map, and today it is the essence of our brand.


Airports must adapt technology to improve the passenger experience as customers are demanding more improvements in this sense. What can DIA offer users in terms of smart technologies?

Let’s start with the “fastest airport Wi-Fi on the planet” according to Ookla! We provide a great Wi-Fi experience without logins or ads that has been reported to stream at 78.22 MBPS. We have also installed over 10,000 power-charging stations on our concourses. These were the two consistent requests we heard from passengers who want easy and fast connectivity.

Today passengers at DIA can use their technology to check in and board their flight, summon an Uber or check real-time security wait line times – but what about tomorrow? We hope you will be able to order your groceries mid-flight and pick them up at the airport before going home. We expect to send you a reservation time for your passenger screening appointment, pre-order a latte for your short connection on a concourse and hope to migrate the check-in process to 100 per cent self-service. Who knows, eventually you may be able to lose your own luggage! (Just kidding!) But seriously, technology is changing very rapidly and it is a challenge to keep up with it. We are investing in internal business management systems that provide us with great data and ways of sharing it with passengers to improve their experience. We don’t know what the next new thing is going to be, but we do know it is an ever-changing landscape and we need to be ready for it, by remaining flexible and nimble.



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