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Passengers arrive at the main terminal Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, as construction continues at Denver International Airport. 

A new report from the Office of Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien scolded Denver International Airport managers for pursuing a large-scale renovation project after finding that many of the airport’s capital assets weren’t properly tracked and maintained. 

Denver’s airport managers, according to the audit, have “resorted to taking a reactive — instead of proactive — approach” to tracking and maintaining assets, spanning escalators and trains to roads and land.

“Denver International Airport is in the midst of a big project to update and expand the Great Hall and terminals, but at the same time, the assets the airport already owns need maintenance and better tracking,” O’Brien said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for DIA said officials have worked closely with the O’Brien’s team and have already implemented “a number” of the suggested recommendations and “has a plan in place” to address the auditor’s findings. 

The airport is “an aging facility but we’re investing in our infrastructure and as new contracting opportunities arise, we’re applying lessons learned from the past to improve our agreements going forward,” DIA spokeswoman Emily Williams said. “Already we’ve seen improvements from these efforts. We also have a robust preventative maintenance plan already in place to reduce the need for long term repairs.”

As part of its findings, O’Brien’s team discovered backlogged maintenance orders for a variety of assets, including passenger loading bridges, bathrooms and inspections of electrical generators. 

As of August, DIA had a pile up of 290 work orders for preventive maintenance on facilities and at least 6,900 deferred work orders for maintenance dating back to 2018.

Airport officials have said a lack of staff and proper funding contributed to the backlog. 

“They told our audit team they couldn’t compete with private sector salaries for maintenance workers and they have high vacancy rates in several positions,” O’Brien’s office said in a statement.

The audit team also found that the airport “inadequately” monitors the third-party companies that run the trains between terminals, as well as the escalators, elevators and other assets that help people get around DIA. 

Between January and May of 2020, for example, O’Brien’s team unearthed 4,085 service outages for assets like escalators, elevators and other “people-movers.” 

“This means assets were down 2% of the time, which exceeds the amount allowed in the maintenance contracts,” the audit found. 

O’Brien’s team warned that falling behind on preventative maintenance and failing to properly monitor contractors for the timeliness of their repair work could lead to shorter lifespans for equipment as well as higher costs and greater challenges for passengers traveling through the airport. 

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people are moving through the airport right now,” O’Brien said. “So now is the time for the airport to clear its maintenance backlogs and get the large collection of people-movers and other equipment into better shape.”

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