Denver International Airport (DEN for IATA, but commonly known as DIA) officials have been talking about it for more than a decade, but they now pulled the trigger: as confirmed by local press, including the Denver Post, DIA will have a seventh runway. At the end of January, a bid process for three early contracts for program management, design and environmental review, worth a combined USD28 million to USD38 million, has started. Final estimated price of the project tags at nearly USD1.2 billion.
The news may come as a surprise in a period marred by the Covid pandemic and consequent travel bans which put commercial aviation worldwide on its knees. But building a runway means planning for the years to come, as much as the project won’t be finished before 2028, when (as everyone hopes) Covid will be in the history books, rather than in the daily news. Besides that, even in such challenging times, Denver International was capable to compete on par with most of its competitive ‘colleagues’ in the US, with some 34 million passengers transited through its doors in 2020: that is some 57% less than passenger traffic in 2019, but enough to confirm DIA at fifth place among the nation’s airports.
Denver International had been built as a record-breaking airport; the largest in the world in point of surface (now it ranks second behind Dammam King Fahd in Saudi Arabia) and as the one featuring the longest public use runway in the North America and the fifth in the world: 16R/34R, which measures 16,000ft or 4,877m. With the addition of the seventh runway, DIA will also gain first place among world’s airports in point of runways total yardage. Currently, the Colorado airport ranks second in a list which sees Amsterdam Schipol as the only non-US airfield within the top five positions.
When it opened back in 1995 to take the place of over-congested Denver Stapleton, DIA had the most impressive and longest set of runways in the world. Situated at an altitude of 5,434ft (1,656mt), five of its six runways measure 12,000ft (3,658m) in length, with 16R/34R topping at 16,000ft, in order to allow safe, all-weather take-offs without payload restrictions for any type of aircraft existing at that time. Total lenght of its airstrips measures 76,000ft or 23,164m.
In more recent times, that leadership has been taken by Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), as the Dallas hub of American Airlines finalized its expansion plan, with the addition of a seventh runway in 1996 and the lengthening of the four primary north-south runways from 11,388 feet (3,471 m) to their present length of 13,400 feet (4,084 m) in a period between 1996 and 2005. As a result, DFW’s runways total yardage reaches 80,403ft (24,506m), almost 4,000ft more than DIA’s.
The third position in this ranking is occupied by Chicago O’Hare (ORD), after that the Illinois hub implemented its O’Hare Modernization Plan (OMP), which involved a complete reconfiguration of the airfield and included the construction of four new runways, the lengthening of two existing runways, and the decommissioning of three old runways to provide O’Hare with six parallel runways and two crosswind runways. The total length of these measures 73,588ft (22,429m).
The only airport outside the US capable to compete with these extraordinary numbers is Amsterdam Schipol (AMS), home and hub of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. In Europe London Heathrow, Paris Charles De Gaulle and Frankfurt have always boasted higher volume of passenger traffic, at least until the Covid messed up the world of commercial aviation. But Amsterdam features a higher number of runways at six, after 18L/36L (nicknamed ‘Polderbaan’) was completed in 2003, and a total extension of its airstrips measuring 63,870ft (19,467m).
One more airport stands well over the 50,000ft mark: Detroit Metropolitan (DTW), whose six runways stand at 57,512ft (17,591m) while, rather surprisingly, Atlanta Hartsfield (ATL) stops at 49,389ft (15,053m)) notwithstanding its world leadership in point of passenger traffic (110,531,300 in 2019). (Photo header Todd Macdonald)
The Top 5:
DALLAS (DFW) 80,403ft
DENVER (DEN) 76,000ft
CHICAGO (ORD) 73,588ft
AMSTERDAM (AMS) 63,870ft
DETROIT (DTW) 57,712ft