BWI feels brunt of USAir strike Fewer flights cut airport's revenue

October 07, 1992|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been hit harder by the Machinists' strike against USAir than have many of the airline's other hubs, with sharp cutbacks in jet service costing BWI thousands of dollars a day and underscoring its diminished status with the carrier.

The strike by the 8,300 Machinists -- which enters its third day today with no apparent progress -- has left the airline operating about 60 percent of its 2,700 jet flights nationwide. But at BWI, only 17 of USAir's 90 jet flights -- less than 20 percent -- are taking off.

USAir is the airport's largest carrier, handling 14,000 of its 27,000 daily passengers. None of USAir's 110 commuter flights at BWI has been affected by the walkout. Overall, the walkout has halted about a fourth of BWI's commercial flights -- and perhaps as much as half of its total jet service.

By contrast, jet flights have been reduced by about a third, from 343 a day to 224 at Pittsburgh, the airline's primary hub. At Charlotte, N.C., another major hub, they have dropped about 40 percent, from 345 to 197. At National Airport, in Arlington, Va., they have been reduced from 105 to 71, while a small airport like Columbus, Ohio has seen the number drop from 25 to 12.

"In a strike situation, we are feeding into the hubs where the most flights are connecting," said Susan Young, a spokeswoman for the Arlington-based airline. "When you are trying to maintain service to 130 cities, you have to make some tough choices."

For passengers, who typically prefer larger, more comfortable jets to commuter planes, the cuts at BWI mean fewer choices.

And for the airport, it means a potential loss of $48,000 a day in landing fees, ticket charges and concession revenues.

"If the strike continued for a month, it could mean a loss of $1 million," said Linda Greene, a spokeswoman at BWI.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers walked out early Monday in a dispute over changes that the financially troubled airline has sought in work rules as well as pay reductions.

Thousands of airline passengers have been forced to reschedule flights on USAir and other airlines. In Washington, no talks were scheduled yesterday between the two sides, which were keeping in touch through a federal mediator.

Ms. Young said the airline's decision to use its Boeing jets predominantly during the strike to simplify maintenance was one factor accounting for the proportionately greater cut at BWI. That's because the airline flies many small and midsize size jets, like McDonald Douglas' DC-9 and the Fokker 100s, out of BWI.

She also said the airline cut a larger percentage of jet flights at BWI because it offers many commuter flights, which are not affected by the strike. Nationwide, 98 percent of the company's 2,000 USAir Express commuter and shuttle flights were operating.

In addition, Ms. Young said, USAir chose to cut more BWI flights because of its proximity to National Airport in Arlington, outside Washington, giving travelers a nearby alternative.

The airline's logistical response to the strike, however, reflects decisions it has made in recent years to scale down its operations at BWI, threatening the airport's status as a national hub for USAir.

In 1989, USAir offered 147 jet departures a day at BWI. That figure has since been cut by 40 percent, to the current 90, as the airline eliminated what it said were unprofitable flights.

"If we were still operating those flights, the effect [of the strike] on the cutbacks could have been even more severe," Ms. Young said.

"We do realize that this is creating hardship, but we're trying to do a good job of maintaining essential flights."

For instance, she said, USAir has kept three of its eight flights from BWI to Boston during the strike, and one of three to both Los Angeles and O'Hare in Chicago.

Twenty-three of the 130 cities it serves have been left with no jet service, Ms. Young said.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it was stepping up its spot inspections of USAir's maintenance operations to ensure safety during the strike.

"The inspectors are going in to check the records, check the work on the floor," said Joann Sloane, a FAA spokeswoman.

"You are never sure when there is a strike what kind of problems might crop up," she said, adding that inspections had been increased during the Machinists strike against Eastern Airlines in 1989.

She said there had been no reports thus far of safety problems as a result of the strike.

USAir is using federally licensed supervisors to inspect the planes along with pilots who are normally required by FAA regulations to conduct walk-around inspections of planes.

"As always, no aircraft will take off unless it is safe," said Ms. Young.

Ms. Young said yesterday that the airline would move to restore some flights if the strike continues.

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