Ramon Lopez/DENVER

DENVER International Airport officials say that they are ready for 27 February, when Stapleton International will be shut down and the much-delayed new airport will take over.

The opening of the airport has been delayed four times because of technical problems with the automated baggage-handling system built by BAE Automated Systems of Dallas, Texas.

The airport will open with BAE's $230 million Integrated Automated Baggage Handling System (IABHS) and an interim $40 million Rapistan Demag conventional conveyor/tug-and-cart system.

Gene Di Fonso, BAE Automated Systems president, says that United Airlines, which will be the airport's largest user, is taking "an extremely conservative approach." Despite assurances from BAE, United will only use the automated system to move bags from the terminal to aircraft. It will, however, use the IABHS to transport extra-large items, such as skis, in both directions.

The IABHS was subjected to a realistic 18h test on 9 February. United operations at Stapleton were simulated at the new airport, but the baggage count was doubled to put the system under stress. Few bags were misdirected and the system was down for only 5min. The stress test will be repeated throughout the airport's opening.

All essential airport equipment, including air-traffic-control hardware, is now operational.

Flight operations will be run down at Stapleton, beginning at 13.00 on 27 February. One runway will be converted into a loading area for moving vans. The new airport's tower will be operational to handle the arrival of ferry flights from Stapleton at 14.00.

All aircraft will have left by 21.30, when large yellow Xs will be painted on Stapleton's six runways to show that they are closed. At 04.00, the new airport's first cargo flights will depart and, by 08.00, the first passenger flights will take off.

Source: Flight International