BWI still aims to add foreign destinations

March 13, 1991|By Maria Mallory

Propelled by last year's momentum, Baltimore-Washington International Airport is holding its own in its pursuit of carriers that fly overseas.

For the past decade, the airport has tried to claim a share of the traffic that flies abroad via New York's Kennedy International Airport or Washington-Dulles International Airport, which also has a firm foothold in that market.

Last summer, BWI was cruising full speed ahead, having pulled in foreign carriers KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Icelandair.

Despite those victories -- which helped propel the airport's international traffic 34 percent higher in 1990 than the year before -- BWI has had its share of losses. Although USAir recently added flights to Canada, BWI found out last week that it soon will lose Mexicana service to Cancun.

But that news already has been eclipsed by the prospect of new international and domestic service by American Airlines.

On Monday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner announced that the door to Heathrow Airport officially had been opened to U.S. carriers seeking to replace financially troubled Pan American Airlines and Trans World Airlines Inc., which in better days had been granted exclusive access to the London airport.

American Airlines is currently awaiting Department of Transportation approval of its proposed purchase of TWA's London routes, including service to the city's Gatwick airport from BWI. A spokesman at the federal agency says the decision could come as early as the end of the month, which could permit American to begin marketing the routes in time for the summer travel season.

In January, TWA cut to one flight a week its service from BWI to Gatwick as the cash-strapped carrier scaled back operations.

According to Al Becker, an American Airlines spokesman, if the transaction is approved, BWI would be the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline's sole gateway in the mid-Atlantic for direct travel to London. Traffic from American's hub network would be routed in and out of BWI to meet the Gatwick flights, Mr. Becker said.

The prospect of American moving in comes in the wake of last week's announcement that Mexicana Airlines will be checking out of BWI.

Mexicana said it will cease its once-daily flight to Cancun, despite what local Mexicana and BWI officials described as healthy demand for the service. "Full airplanes [are] not the only sign of whether you are making money," said Bruce E. Hicks, a Mexicana spokesman.

But the BWI roller coaster of international service took yet another turn upward when Philadelphia-based charter carrier Apple Vacations stepped in to offer four weekly flights to Cancun.

The comings and goings of the carriers reflect the changes within the troubled airline industry overall, rather than BWI's desirability as a base, says Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator for marketing and development at BWI. And though he doesn't foresee pulling in brand new carriers during this year, his office continues to court carriers El Al Israel Airlines and other foreign carriers. The airport is even trying to change Mexicana's mind, he said.

All in all, Mr. Hierholzer anticipates "more steps forward and very few backward."

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