United to proceed with Denver airport expansion | CraigDailyPress.com

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United to proceed with Denver airport expansion

DENVER (AP) United Airlines will proceed with a 35-gate expansion at Denver International Airport, ending months of speculation that the project was in danger because of the company’s recent financial problems.

The carrier’s board of directors approved the project at a meeting in Colorado Springs last week, United spokeswoman Whitney Staley said.

It was the same meeting where the board decided to scrap a planned merger with US Airways.

The additional gates will be built on the east wing of Concourse A for regional jet service. It will make the airport the largest, most modern regional aircraft facility in United’s five-hub system.

Even as United cuts back some operations, the nation’s number two carrier is expanding its regional jet fleet.

United Express carrier Air Wisconsin has ordered between 50 and 150 new Bombardier regional jets, many of which are expected to fly in and out of Denver.

The jets, which hold 50 to 70 people, allow airlines to fly long distances to smaller cities faster and more comfortably than turboprops.

Currently United Express passengers are funneled from Concourse B, passing through prefabricated metal walkways and climbing up stairs to board their flights.

The expansion will give United Express passengers jetways and other amenties United customers enjoy, Staley said.

Industry analysts had speculated that United might cancel or postpone the expansion in an effort to trim about $300 million from its budget.

United lost $305 million in the first quarter and is expected to lose more than $11 a share this year, according to industry estimates.

Airline analyst Mike Boyd, president of the Boyd Group of Evergreen, said United had to go through with the expansion to compete with American Airlines, which recently acquired TWA.

”They have to expand their East-West routes or they’ll lose market share to American,” Boyd said.

The expansion was originally expected to be open in 2003 but the date may have to be pushed back because of financial and operational problems during the past year.