Sonic boom at BWI

February 14, 1994

That loud, thunderous noise you heard was the sonic boom that accompanied Baltimore-Washington International Airport's abrupt, jet-like rise to No. 2 among the region's airports, surpassing Dulles International in terms of passengers for the month of December. With 30-plus percent increases in the last three months of 1993, BWI is positioned to continue this rise in popularity.

Discount airlines explain the airport's turnaround. Southwest Airlines arrived in September with $19 fares to Chicago. The airline's success at BWI persuaded Continental Airlines to triple its flights here and go discount, too. Now USAir -- the airport's largest carrier -- is rapidly expanding its discounted tickets as well.

The result: a 6.7 percent rise in airport passengers for 1993. This compares with a meager 1.4 percent gain in airline traffic nationwide. Customers came from southern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia to take advantage of the discount fares. The growth in Washington-area passengers was spectacular: Shuttle traffic from Amtrak's nearby rail station jumped 81 percent.

BWI used to be the best-kept secret among the region's three airports. No longer. The crush of new flights and nearly 1 million passengers a month in peak seasons is taxing the airport's facilities. That's why a $25 million pier expansion for domestic flights is imperative. Airlines that object to this construction are the ones seeking to keep out new competition. That's not the way publicly-owned airports ought to be run.

USAir is also objecting to the planned $130 million international terminal for BWI. Once again, demand is growing and the only way BWI can accommodate the growing number of overseas flights is with a vastly expanded international section. That this plan includes a jazzed-up shopping arcade and marketplace, as well as an indoor light-rail terminus, adds to the activity level. It is XTC a project that positions BWI well for future growth.

BWI is this region's economic engine. For that reason, it is important that legislators in Annapolis give the go-ahead to these expansion plans, and to another proposal that would set up a quasi-private board to run the facility in a more entrepreneurial manner.

The airline industry is undergoing major changes right now, and BWI is right in the middle of these transformations. The General Assembly owes it to taxpayers to boost the airport's fortunes. A booming BWI can only bring good fortune to residents and companies in the Baltimore-Washington region.

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