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Wingless Flight Program Could Help NoCo Travelers Fly Through DIA

courtesy of Denver International Airport

Northern Colorado travelers may soon be able to bypass the security lines at DIA. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report, about how the wingless flight program could work.

O’Toole: So, Jeff, we heard a little about this when it was first announced. What’s the “wingless flight” program all about?

Nuttall: I think it could be a really great deal for anyone from Northern Colorado who needs to fly out of DIA, Erin. The Fort Collins-Loveland Airport is using a $221,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to explore the possibility of letting travelers go through security screening at the local airport then take a bus directly to their concourse at DIA.

O’Toole: That’s certainly a different approach. What would be the major advantages of such a program?

Nuttall: Obviously, it would save fliers time — anyone who has waited in the screening line at DIA can appreciate that -- and money on parking in the expensive airport lots. It would also save on toll road fees, and taking cars off of the interstate always reduces the carbon footprint, so that’s good. But it would also save money for DIA by reducing the need to devote more space to security or parking as the airport becomes busier.

O’Toole: So how would it work?

Nuttall: Let’s say you had a 10 o’clock flight out of DIA. Instead of fighting morning rush hour traffic to be there early enough to get through the TSA screening then cool your heels on the concourse, you could show up at Fort Collins-Loveland, check in for your flight, drop off your bags, go through security, then hop on the bus. Next stop, your departure gate. Because the bus makes no stops in between Loveland and DIA, you and your bags don’t have to be rescreened.

O’Toole: What sort of demand would there be for such a program?

Nuttall: That’s one of the things the grant money is going to be used to study. The number of commercial passengers flying out of the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport has increased fairly steadily since 2007. The total number of enplanements in 2010 was well over 35,000, and through September, the number is already close to the total number for all of 2007. So there are a lot of fliers within a 30-mile radius of the airport.

O’Toole: I’m curious how would this affect existing airport shuttle services?

Nuttall: Fort Collins-Loveland airport officials are also exploring partnering with some of the companies that already go to DIA. But not picking up additional passengers on the way could have an impact on the shuttle services’ revenue.

O’Toole: Right. Was this a special grant just for our local airport?

Nuttall: Fort Collins-Loveland was among 30 airports selected to receive funding through the Small Community Air Service Development Program, out of 70 that applied. The idea is to test different ideas to see if they are feasible locally, and then take them to the next level. If the wingless flight model takes off, as it were, it could eventually be implemented at other community airports throughout the nation, allowing both travelers and airlines opportunities for market growth.

O’Toole: I’d imagine there’d be a lot of interest in this. So -- when does the first bus leave?

Nuttall: Well, it could be a ways off, Erin, maybe even as much as two years. There are a host of issues to be worked out with the TSA, as you can imagine. And airport officials are just in the earliest stages of developing a strategy to build buy-in from major Northern Colorado employers, those who have the most frequent business travelers and who could potentially benefit the most from such a program.

In fact, the grant focuses specifically on how the airport can enhance the growth of business air travel, in addition to its already robust commercial leisure-destination service. But it’s an idea that certainly has my attention.

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