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Southwest displaces Frontier as number two carrier at Denver

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The August traffic results from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics mark a milestone: the first time Southwest Airlines enplaned more passengers at Denver since it began service to the airport in 2006. Southwest frequently points out that Denver has grown faster than any other destination in its history, and it's no secret why: Denver is a coveted mid-continent hub opportunity with plenty of gate space, and room for growth.

A hub is a tricky thing to build and support. Geographically a hub in the middle of the continent is prized because it allows airlines to fly passengers via the most direct routings, lowering costs and increasing convenience. It also allows for flights with medium stage lengths which are more cost-efficient on a per mile basis than short hauls. Successful hubs also have a large amount of O&D (Origin & Destination, or passengers whose origin or destination are the hub city itself) traffic. The list of hubs that failed did so partially because they were not large destinations in their own right; Columbus, Las Vegas, Raleigh-Durham, San Jose, Reno, St. Louis, Cincinatti, and Pittsburgh are all examples of such hubs. Other hubs that are in jeopardy or that have been sustained but never been wildly successful include Salt Lake City, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Denver is a thriving commercial center with a large population within the catchment area of the airport, an important factor both for airlines that utilize hubs such as Frontier and United, and Southwest, which traditionally eschews hubs in favor of point-to-point service, but still connects a large number of passengers through Denver.

Southwest's market share has steadily increased and by August 2010, the latest month for which statistics are available from the BTS, showed United in first place with a share of 29.09% at Denver, Southwest in second with a share of 17.58%, and Frontier in third with a share of 17.56%. However, the statistics only represent operating airline - SkyWest Airlines, which is in fourth place with 12.38% market share operates its flights on behalf of United under the United Express moniker. The shares for Frontier Airlines also likely place it in front of Southwest in market share by brand, as some of flights operated for the Frontier brand are actually flown by Republic Airways and Lynx Aviation. Southwest Airlines does not market flights operated by any other airline on its behalf.

However, regardless of which marketing carrier has the largest share at Denver, Southwest's increases in market share are telling: they're growing rapidly at Denver, and Frontier hasn't kept up.

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