Off Limits

A wing and a prayer: Guess we can forgive Denver airport officials if they felt a chill run down their spines after the May 11 crash of a ValuJet DC-9 in the Florida Everglades. It wasn't so long ago, after all, that DIA honchos were falling all over themselves trying to lure the discount airline to Denver. As part of an effort to seduce low-cost airlines, most of whom have steered clear of DIA's swamp of high fees, officials last summer held a high-level confab with the Atlanta-based carrier. Luckily, those discussions went nowhere--the same place DIA's efforts to lure industry leader Southwest Airlines have wound up.

Published reports last September said Mayor Wellington Webb and aviation director Jim DeLong flew all the way to Atlanta to meet with ValuJet executives. But airport finance boss Vicki F. Braunagel says it's her recollection that the trip never took place. As Braunagel remembers it, after the city expressed interest, a pair of ValuJet bigwigs flew to Denver to talk turkey. "We just talked about the benefits of DIA as we usually do, our great efficient airfield," she says.

Denver, however, may already have left a bad taste in the mouth of ValuJet president Lewis H. Jordan; back when he ran Continental Airlines, Park Hill residents snubbed Jordan's personal plea to let that carrier keep a maintenance center at Stapleton. And while DIA officials have offered to help subsidize moves by other budget airlines--wanna buy a MarkAir ticket, cheap?--Braunagel insists no incentives were offered to ValuJet. In the end, the dream of a ValuJet in Denver's future fell through when the upstart airline opted to limit its operations to the Southeast. "We had that discussion, and they then went back to Atlanta," says Braunagel. "Later, the vice-president of properties called and said, 'Thank you very much, but it looks as though DIA won't be in our immediate plans.'"

At DIA, though, hope springs as eternal as jet fumes. Braunagel says Denver hasn't ruled out making a future run at ValuJet, despite its record of scrapes with federal safety inspectors and the recent crash, which killed 110 passengers and crew. "It really very much depends on their business plan and how they end up deciding to operate their business as it stands," she says.

We'll fly standby.

Speaking of flights of fancy, DeLong is also joining Webb and high-flying First Lady Wilma Webb on the mayor's current "overseas mission" to the Far East, where hizzoner will attempt to drum up trade in China, Korea and Japan in between gladhanding officials at four Asian airlines. That last bit of business is part of an attempt to land the nonstop Pacific Rim service promised to citizens back when the city was selling DIA, and it's why DeLong is going along for the ride.

And Jimmy boy, whose other recent out-of-town jaunts have included trips to Las Vegas and Boston, ain't goin' on the economy plan. Meals and accommodations for the Webbs will be comped by the foreign governments, says Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson. As for the Webbs' airfare, it's on Ross Leher, chairman of Denver's Robert Waxman, Inc. (save for $2,000 worth of shuttle flights Hudson says he hopes will be covered by as-yet-unnamed "donors"). DeLong, however, is going on the city's tab. Citing "the high cost of international travel," the globe-trotting aviation boss requested a $300-per-day "hardship advance" for his ride on the Oriental express. Sounds like one hell of a dim sum.

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