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Airport to Open Feb. 28, Maybe

October 02, 1994|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

Its debut was to have been Oct. 31, 1993. That day, workers were scheduled to open the doors, runways and first-of-its-kind automated baggage delivery system of the sprawling, state-of-the-art Denver International Airport.

It didn't happen. Mostly because of snafus in that automated baggage delivery system, the airport's opening date has been delayed again and again. Each delay prolonged the working life of Stapleton Airport (on the other side of town), cost the city either $500,000 or $1 million per day (depending on how you counted lost revenues and bond interest payments) and inspired many jokes about the project's tardiness, inefficiency and what the letters D.I.A. might stand for (one favorite: Done In Awhile ).

Finally, city officials decided to start work on a back-up baggage delivery system (one that uses traditional technology) while BAE Automated Systems Inc., continued its efforts to get the new automated system working right. (The automated baggage system, plagued by both computer software and mechanical problems, relies on 3,500 "telecars" circulating on 21 miles of track, along with another 10 miles of conveyor belts.)

The new target date for the airport opening: Feb. 28, 1995.

By that day, says DIA spokesman Steve Klodt, city contracts call for the automated luggage delivery system (cost so far: $193 million) to be up and running.

If it isn't, the city has a contract with another firm to have the back-up baggage delivery system (which could run as much as $50 million) fully operational by Dec. 31, 1994. Thus, if the automated system falters again, the back-up system operators would have had two months of testing time.

Total estimated cost of the new airport: $3.2 billion ($501 million to be covered by federal funds).

Meanwhile, one of the facility's principal users, Continental Airlines, has been substantially reducing its Denver presence.

The airline in the last year has cut its number of Denver departures from about 200 daily to an anticipated 23 daily beginning in November.

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