Southwest Airlines hopes to add as many as 100 flights a day as part of gate expansions at Denver International Airport — a move that would make the Colorado city the busiest in the carrier’s network.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines notified officials at Denver International Airport that the company wants 16 new gates being constructed as part of a $1.5 billion expansion at the facility. In all, Denver International is adding 39 gates and should start opening at the end of 2020.
Southwest now operates 200 to 225 flights a day out of Denver. The move could give the airline nearly 300 daily flights there and surpass Chicago Midway, which has about 265 flights a day from Southwest.
The airline operates 195 daily flights from its Dallas Love Field base.
“As the economy in Denver grows, the desire for more air traffic grows too,” said Southwest spokesman Dan Landson. “Secondarily, the location of Denver is great to help people connect east.”
Denver has become an important stop for Southwest since it started there in 2006, not only as a West Coast gateway but for traffic, which is growing at a rate of about 5 percent a year.
Denver was the nation’s fifth busiest airport in 2018, with 603,403 total flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That was just behind fourth-place DFW International Airport’s 667,213 flights.
Expanding in Denver could help alleviate pressures Southwest has at two of its other central U.S. airports. Love Field and Chicago Midway both have constraints that prevent expansion.
Southwest Airlines now operates about 20 gates at the Denver airport, a sprawling 54-square-mile property that gives it an abundance of space to grow concourses and add flights.
But it’s also a highly competitive airport. Denver is the flagship airport for ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines as well as a hub for Chicago-based United Airlines.
Both those airlines are likely to expand in Denver, but not to the scale of Southwest, said Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant and founder of Evergreen, Colorado-based Boyd Group International.
“It’s a huge market with a lot more gates coming along here,” Boyd said. “And in Denver, there is a lot of point-to-point connecting.”
Other than launching Hawaii service, Southwest put most of its expansion plans on hold during the last six months as it deals with a shrunken fleet from the grounding of its 34 Boeing 737 Max jets. It stopped service to Newark, New Jersey’s airport and cut select flights.
But any expansion to Denver would come at the end of 2020 and by then Southwest expects to have fully recovered from 737 Max problems.
The 16 gates that Southwest wants are all on Denver’s C Concourse. That would keep all of its flights in that section of the airport.
The City of Denver, which operates Denver International Airport, did not respond to a request for comment about what other airlines have requested gates.