Passengers at BWI top 1 million

May 03, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

More than a million passengers traveled through Baltimore-Washington International Airport in March, setting a record, as an explosion of fare wars has made once-sleepy BWI the nation's fastest-growing airport.

Passenger traffic at BWI soared to 1.09 million in March, topping the previous record of 1.02 million in August 1989, shortly after USAir and Piedmont Airlines merged.

Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer attributed the gains to a combination of lower fares, more flights and aggressive marketing, especially in the Washington area.

"It's the hottest big airport in the U.S. now," said Mr. Lighthizer, whose department oversees the state-owned BWI. "No other large airport is having 30, 40, 50 percent increases. It's a center for low-cost air traffic."

The intense domestic fare wars began at BWI last fall after the no-frills, low-priced Southwest Airlines announced it would start its first East Coast service there, flying to Cleveland and Chicago. That prompted aggressive moves by USAir, the dominant carrier at BWI, and Continental Airlines, with both cutting unrestricted fares by more than 50 percent.

But the fare wars have produced growth in passengers among all airlines at BWI, with United Airlines, which has only nine flights a day, seeing a 46 percent growth in passengers in March, for instance.

The airport's hub carrier, USAir, carried more than 500,000 jet passengers, a 55 percent gain over March 1993. Perhaps the most impressive gain was for Continental, whose business leaped from 17,634 passengers in March 1993 to 102,930 in March 1994 as it established its ContinentalLite low-fare program and increased its number of daily flights at BWI from seven to 33.

L USAir also has added several dozen jet departures this year.

But the increase in passengers has not translated into profits for either airline. In the first quarter of 1994, Arlington, Va.-based USAir reported losses of $200 million. Continental, which lost nearly $28 million in the fourth quarter of 1993, is expected soon to report losses for the first three months of this year.

The record number of passengers at BWI in March represents a 51 percent jump over last March, although the increase partly reflects the effect of last March's "storm of the century," which shut down BWI and other airports temporarily and forced cancellation of many flights.

The number of passengers was up 25.7 percent in January and 26.7 percent in February this year. BWI officials foresee the growth continuing for at least six more months.

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