In an effort to turn around its money-losing operation at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, USAir announced yesterday that it plans to cut the number of jet flights from the airport, increase the number of commuter departures and cut full-time employment at BWI by nearly 170 workers.
Travel agents and analysts said the move will reduce Baltimore's stature as a hub and mean lower-quality service for the many travelers who dislike propeller planes.
During a news conference at BWI yesterday, James T. Lloyd, executive vice president and general counsel for USAir, said that beginning May 2, USAir will reduce the number of flights from the airport to 191 from 198.
But the number of daily jet departures will drop to 87 from 111 and the number of commuter flights on its USAir Express service will increase to 104 from 87, he said.
USAir, the largest airline at BWI with more than 60 percent of the market, stressed that it is committed to maintaining its hub operation in Baltimore. "BWI is critically important to USAir's strategy, and we have no intention of dismantling the hub," Mr. Lloyd said.
Still, although USAir is not dismantling the hub, it is substantially reducing its size.
"It means we're going to be a lesser hub," said Bridget M. Peirson, president of Peirson Travel Service in Catonsville. "I don't think they're doing our customers justice in the long run."
"Customers don't like flying props," she said, noting that some people refer to them as "puddle jumpers." Jets are quieter, faster and provide smoother rides than propeller planes.
USAir's announcement comes after a dismal 1991 for the airline, whose parent company, USAir Group Inc. in Arlington, Va., lost $305.3 million on revenues of $6.5 billion last year. That included a $65 million loss at USAir's BWI operation for the 12 months that ended Nov. 30, said David H. Shipley, a USAir spokesman. The stock of USAir Group Inc. closed yesterday at $16.625 a share, up 37.5 cents a share, on the New York Stock Exchange.
"Our May 2 schedule adjustments are intended to further match capacity with demand and move the BWI hub operation toward profitability," said Seth E. Schofield, USAir's president and chief executive officer.
Jack Ciesielski, an analyst who follows USAir for Legg Mason in Baltimore, said the airline seems to be moving its jets away from markets that leave many empty seats to areas that can fill the planes.
"It sounds to me like they're putting their big guns behind their big hubs," he said. "Baltimore is not one of them."
Richard Golaszewski, executive vice president of Gellman Research Associates Inc. of Jenkintown, Pa., said the new schedule means USAir will be emphasizing the regional market served by BWI over the national market.
But the changes do not mean a dramatic reduction in BWI's status, said Mr. Golaszewski, who called the decisions part of USAir's "fine tuning." BWI will remain an important hub in the airline's national system, he said.
On average, a commuter plane carries about one-third as many seats as a jet. USAir's jets carry 60 to 130 passengers, depending on the model. Commuter planes carry 20 to 50 passengers.
The airline seems to be trying to maintain frequency of service from Baltimore while reducing the number of seats on planes leaving BWI, Mr. Golaszewski said.
As a result, the airport should experience an overall decline in traffic, though the impact is not expected to be great, Mr. Golaszewski said. "They're scaling it back a bit," he said.
Calling the change a "technical adjustment," state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer said the reduction was not a setback for the airport. "USAir is still very much committed to BWI," he said.
USAir's Mr. Shipley said some destinations now served by jets from Baltimore will be served by smaller propeller planes, which are more economical. He said he did not know, however, which routes will be switched from jets.
Along with changing the kind of planes used, the airline also will discontinue daily flights to Las Vegas; Kansas City, Mo.; Nassau, Bahamas; Phoenix; and Fort Myers, Fla. The daily service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, will be reduced to once a week, Mr. Shipley said.
Some of the flights to Southern destinations would have been discontinued in the spring in any case because of seasonal traffic reductions, he said.
Additional flights will be added to New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Mr. Shipley said.
The reduction in flights will affect 31 maintenance personnel and 137 full-time customer-service employees, Mr. Lloyd said.
Although the jobs will be eliminated -- or reduced to part-time positions -- employees will be offered the chance to transfer to other USAir locations. There are about 2,500 USAir employees at BWI, including flight crews.
The airline said it does not expect to lay off any employees who are willing to transfer.