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INSIDE THE BELTWAY

THE BAE BAGGAGE SYSTEM COST HALF A BILLION DOLLARS AND DELAYED DIA'S OPENING FOR MORE THAN A YEAR. AND IT STILL ISN'T WORKING.BAG IT WILL THE CITY HAVE TO PACK IN DIA'S AUTOMATED BAGGAGE SYSTEM?

"United has taken over as construction manager," says Norman Witteveen, Denver's deputy aviation director for planning and engineering. "BAE has to satisfy the level of service United expects. We would depend on United's position on that."

According to Witteveen, it's not clear whether Denver will eventually sue BAE. "It's premature to comment on whether there will or will not be litigation," he says. "I don't have a crystal ball."

For Linda, the bartender at Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille, all the talk about moving baggage seems like so much hot air. While the lawyers argue and the engineers tinker, business is still miserable.

"We don't care about the automated system," says Linda, a nineteen-year veteran of Stapleton who asks that her last name not be used. "We just want passengers. We need bodies out here. It's about survival."

The city obviously agrees. But when it comes to luring carriers to Concourse A, Denver's options are severely limited. After all, why would American, Delta, Northwest or any of the other major airlines now flying out of Concourse C want to move to A just to be saddled with the higher costs of the BAE system?

Airport officials have responded by trying to woo the airport's little sisters of the poor. Last month the aviation department proposed using $4.5 million in airport concession revenues, which are split between the city and the airlines, to subsidize a move to Concourse A by MarkAir, Midwest Express and the Sun Country charter service. After that plan met with a decidedly cool reception from other carriers, the city backed off last week and offered a back-up proposal: to pay for the move with money allotted for the Concourse A baggage system.

MarkAir, Midwest Express and Sun Country were targeted by the city for relocation because they haven't signed leases at DIA. But how much of a financial boost they could actually provide Concourse A is debatable. MarkAir is flying under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and recently sparked the ire of its unsecured creditors when it began offering steeply discounted fares that critics labeled a "cash grab." Wisconsin-based Midwest Express runs a light schedule of flights into DIA from Milwaukee. And the booking agency that arranges Sun Country's charter flights to Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Los Cabos, Mexico, recently announced it was pulling out of the Denver market, making it likely that Sun Country itself will soon depart.

Like her fellow employees on Concourse A, Linda eagerly trades rumors on carriers that might be convinced to settle in the slowest part of the airport. The latest buzz is that American Airlines might shift its operations from the busier Concourse C--a bit of wishful thinking that American vehemently denies.

Along with other U.S. airports, DIA is on high security alert these days, bracing for a possible terrorist attack from Middle Eastern extremists. But the rows of empty seats running up and down Concourse A make it seem as though the building has already been evacuated. It might be a scene from TV's The X Files but for Linda's mischievous laugh over at Lefty's.

While she wipes down a counter that's barely been touched and rearranges some bottles, Linda looks out over the empty corridor and sighs. "Usually all the business guys are coming home or going home on a Friday afternoon," she says. "Where are they?

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