DIA, located in Denver, Colorado
some miles northeast of the city center, is physically the largest airport in the United States of America
and the largest public works
project in American history
, covering an area of 53 square miles. Its construction cost nearly five billion dollars, financed by bond
The airport was the brainchild of former Denver mayor Federico Peña, who argued that a new airport in Denver would win over business from the two largest east-west hubs in the US, O'Hare in Chicago and DFW in Dallas. There is still much controversy over why Peña had the airport built: he claimed that it was to improve on the old Stapleton Airport's capacity and on-time performance, which many believe weren't problems to begin with.
Whatever its motivation, the construction of DIA was filled with problems. The biggest problem was its new system for baggage handling, which uses computer-controlled carts that scurry around the terminal independently: when the airport was first scheduled to open in 1993, the system wasn't working correctly, with carts crashing into each other and derailing left and right. Continental Airlines, which had previously said that it would build a hub at the new airport, backed out. Denver International finally opened on February 28, 1995, one and a half years behind schedule, and Peña was soon named Secretary of Transportation (later Secretary of Energy) for the Clinton administration.
Whether or not the airport has actually been successful is hard to ascertain. Its five runways can easily handle 120 aircraft an hour in fair weather conditions, and can continue to operate flights even in the face of snowstorms. Of course, as DIA's managers soon learned, an all-weather airport is useless if people can't get to it: one snowstorm in April 2001 left the airport a disaster when nobody could get in or out by land. But while the airport has improved Denver's air access, critics charge that its increased distance from Denver, coupled with higher landing fees, make flying in and out of Denver a more expensive proposition for air travelers, effectively negating any positive effect the airport has had on the area's economy.
With 38 million passengers a year, 85 percent of them on United Airlines, Denver is the sixth-busiest airport in America. The main terminal building, named for aviator Elrey Jeppesen, is well-known for its tent-like fiberglass roof structures that cast an incredible image against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It is somewhat similar to the terminal at Hartsfield, with a ticketing area that connects to satellite terminals on the airside via a people mover system.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that DIA's great size is actually concealing an underground military operation: others think that the terminal is intended to be a temple for New Age religionists. Still, DIA is without a doubt one of the most ambitious airports ever built: perhaps if it were in a better location, people wouldn't complain as much.
Some hard stats on DIA:
7/25 12,000 ft
8/26 12,000 ft
16/34 12,000 ft
17L/35R 12,000 ft
17R/35L 12,000 ft
All runways are equipped for Category I ILS approaches with MALSR and PAPI lighting: 34 and 35L/R are equipped for Category III with ALSF lighting.
39 51'30"N / 104 40'01"W
Elevation 5,431 ft ASL
ICAO code: DEN