USAIR steps up service at BWI

January 06, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Faced with cutthroat competition and growing demand created by low fares, USAir is significantly increasing its daily jet service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline, which added 13 daily jet departures at BWI this week, is set to announce plans todayto add 11 more daily jet flights beginning Feb. 16. That would bring the total jet departures to 121 a day, up from 88 less than two years ago.

During the past six months, BWI has emerged as a hotbed of competitive pricing, sparked by the entry of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines in September and by low fares offered by Continental Airlines from BWI to a dozen cities.

"We've seen the number of passengers double, quadruple in some markets," said David Shipley, a spokesman for USAir. "Fares have stimulated traffic tremendously."

Since prices were lowered in September, passengers traveling USAir between Baltimore and Greensboro, N.C., for instance, have jumped to 1,400 a day from 400 a day, he said. Currently, the one-way, restricted fare is $69, compared with $249 previously.

Since September, the airport has seen a double-digit percentage increase in monthly passengers. An overall increase of 1 million passengers is expected in 1994.

The additional USAir jet service would mean one or two more flights to East Coast cities within 500 miles but would not result in new destinations or changes in fares. USAir has already lowered fares to match Continental Airlines and Southwest, Mr. Shipley said.

The total 121 jet departures by USAir falls short of the 150 daily jet flights the company had in 1989, shortly after USAir and Piedmont Airlines merged. But it was a welcome development by an airline that had scrapped jet departures at BWI in recent years in favor of more commuter service.

"It reflects USAir's continuing commitment to BWI," said Theodore E. Mathison, administrator at BWI. "It's a market they want to stay in and be strong."

During the mid-1980s, the decision by Piedmont Airlines to make Baltimore one of its hubs drove the growth at BWI. Piedmont's plans called for 225 jet departures a day by the early 1990s.

But when Piedmont was bought by USAir in 1989, the larger airline found itself with too many hubs that were too close together, according to airline industry analysts.

In replacing jet flights with commuter service, USAir argued that passenger demand at BWI did not justify the large number of jets. But the smaller jets and propeller planes used on the short-haul commuter routes were considerably less popular with passengers. In addition, the smaller planes tended to diminish the airport's stature as a major hub.

Mr. Shipley said the airline had no plans to change its current 76 daily commuter flights.

The increased jet service is part of an attempt by USAir to restructure its operation to compete with low-fare, low-cost discount carriers.

"The whole industry is scrambling like mad to figure out what they can do to make money again," said Alex C. Hart, airline analyst for Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. in Baltimore. "USAir obviously thinks it has an opportunity with its operation at BWI."

BWI is a test site for the short-haul, low-fare operation USAir plans to implement elsewhere in 1994, Mr. Shipley said, as the carrier struggles to make a profit after losing nearly $2 billion in the past four years.

The increased flight schedule dovetails with the airline's recently announced plans to use its planes more efficiently by increasing the time that its fleet is in the air. That gives the airline the equivalent of several more planes a day without adding any aircraft or personnel.

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