It Shouldn't Be USAir vs. BWI

January 31, 1994

Being a good corporate citizen is a two-way street. Businesses that provide jobs and boost the local economy are welcome neighbors, but they also assume some responsibilities for the general welfare. In the case of airlines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, this means helping Maryland keep the vital facility healthy.

USAir, by far the largest airline serving BWI, needs to be reminded of its stake in the viability of the airport and of the state's economy, which fills its aircraft. That's not what it is doing by undermining BWI's expansion plans.

First USAir -- an international carrier since its quasi-merger with British Airways -- objected to the enlarging of BWI's international terminal. Now it is trying to stymie the addition of new gates at Pier C, which handles domestic flights. USAir contends the financing method would be too expensive, though the money won't come from its pocket.

Bunk. What USAir dislikes is the increased competition that would come with more flights at BWI by other airlines. State officials can't wait until other airlines come knocking at their doors asking for landing rights to start an expansion program. The airlines won't come calling unless they know the capacity to handle their flights is there when they want it -- right then, not five years later.

Like all U.S. airlines, USAir has been suffering from high costs, though it's now turning that around. But traffic through BWI has zoomed since Southwest Airlines started its cut-rate, no-frills service there. Although the price-cutting hurts, all airlines have seen much more business since Southwest stimulated traffic. There may be a shakeout coming, but USAir is still the big guy at the airport with more than half the traffic.

One of the U.S. airline industry's least endearing qualities is its readiness to blame its problems on anyone but itself. The Clinton administration's generally sympathetic study of the airlines' problems last year rejected their pleas for substantial tax relief and suggested they needed to get better control over their own operations.

So it is with BWI's expansion plans. Complaining about misuse of the $3-a-head fee charged passengers to finance these projects is a pretty thin argument. BWI needs to keep expanding to maintain its competitive position against Washington and Philadelphia. Maryland strongly supported USAir when it was struggling to keep financially sound and in the political battle over its infusion of capital from British Airways. Now the state has a right to expect USAir's support, not sabotage, in keeping BWI viable.

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