Direct to Tokyo is good for Denver

Author: - March 27, 2015 - Updated: March 27, 2015

For decades, securing a nonstop flight to Asia — Tokyo, specifically — was one of Denver’s top priorities. It was under the leadership of Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock that the vision finally became a reality on June 10, 2013, with the inaugural nonstop flight from the Mile High City to Tokyo-Narita International Airport. This summer marks the second full year of United Airlines’ daily nonstop service between the airline’s hubs in Denver and Tokyo — and there’s much to be excited about.

When it launched, the flight immediately stimulated passenger demand and grew the air travel market between Denver and Tokyo by 40 percent. Utilizing United’s Star Alliance connections, Tokyo has become a preferred one-stop gateway for Denver to 30 major destinations across Asia. Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul and Manila are among the top cities passengers are connecting to, and each of these markets have recorded strong increases in Denver passengers.

In its first year of service, the Denver to Tokyo flight carried approximately 130,000 passengers, and we expect about the same number of travelers during the second year. The appeal of this flight includes that it’s operated on the marvelous Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and it slashes a minimum of two and a half hours off the previous travel time between Denver and Narita. Today, the flight consistently generates higher load factors versus similar U.S. markets with Tokyo/Narita service, or put more simply, Denver has opened a new gateway to all of Asia, and people are taking notice.

Tokyo now represents Denver’s largest market on the Asian continent, and it means that passengers who are in Denver today can be in Asia tomorrow. DIA provides access to more than 170 destinations worldwide, including 20 nonstop international destinations in nine countries, so passengers from across the continent can use Denver as their U.S. connecting point. Mayor Hancock has said that cities today succeed when they are connected and competitive in the global marketplace. We are already seeing exactly that kind of payoff with the Tokyo flight, which is expected to boost foreign trade and tourism between the Rocky Mountain region and Asia, create nearly 1,500 jobs and generate an estimated $130 million in annual economic benefit to Colorado.

And the global business community is taking notice. Last December, Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. selected Denver from 22 U.S. cities to build its new headquarters at the Peña Boulevard Station now under construction at 61st Avenue and Peña Boulevard as part of the East Rail Line. Panasonic saw the potential that a globally connected city like Denver has to offer, in part because of the Tokyo flight and the development opportunities available on DIA land.

Recently, I traveled with a delegation to visit Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, near Tokyo, after which the Peña Station development will be modeled. This state-of-the-art Fujisawa Smart Town is a joint project between the private and public sectors, which integrates advanced technology-based infrastructure and lifestyle-based innovative systems. It’s our goal to build a development with similar goals that will be a global showcase for sustainable development and a model for public-private partnership. Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company is our key partner in this effort.

This link to Japan certainly benefits the business community but our local community also has embraced the flight. Membership in the Japan America Society of Colorado has more than doubled since the service began, and our economic development and tourism partners continue to promote Denver and Colorado in Japan, resulting in increased market awareness that has supported the growth of this service. The strong performance of this flight helps support our business case for new service to Asia, whether that comes in the form of a second flight to Tokyo or perhaps flights to destinations such as Seoul or Beijing.

But, as tends to be the case in the volatile global aviation marketplace, the Tokyo flight is very much a “use it or lose it” proposition. The key to maintaining any air service is airline profitability, and that requires generating new traffic — stimulating passengers to travel to and from Denver who might not have thought about a trip to Tokyo or beyond in the past. The ongoing success of this flight depends not only on continued support from our economic development and tourism partners but from each and every individual who is traveling between Denver and Asia.

All of Denver’s international flights are critical to the long-term success of the regional economy. United’s recently added nonstop flight from Denver to Panama is opening a new gateway to destinations across Central and South America. And for the Panama flight, just like the Tokyo one, the key to success remains in the hands of passengers. Please remain cognizant as you book your travel that you can influence our future air service based on the flights you choose. Denver is more than a world-class destination: it’s also a connection to the world, and we need to keep it that way

Kim Day is the CEO of Denver International Airport.