Strong service is seen as the key to keeping BWI Airport flying high

The Outlook

January 07, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton

ONCE AGAIN, Southwest Airlines is driving down fares at Baltimore- Washington International Airport with its new service to Florida. But the widespread low prices that spurred BWI's record growth during the past two years are over. Now, the airport's future hinges on maintaining strong domestic service -- and luring new international carriers.

Can BWI sustain its current level of flights, particularly those of its major carrier, USAir? Will it continue to draw passengers from Washington? What's ahead in 1996?

Theodore E. Mathison

Administrator, BWI

The biggest challenge will be air service development, particularly in the international arena. So much of that, however, is beyond our control. Those decisions depend on whether or not the airline feels it can make money on a particular flight. In addition, we're in a very competitive market with two other Washington-area airports and with Philadelphia.

While we can show airlines the potential market and the advantages of using BWI, they actually have to try a service to see how it can develop. The final decision has to be made on the economics of that flight. These are economic decisions by the airlines.

Despite the reduction in flights and a downturn in the economy, we held onto the traffic generated in 1994. BWI kept pace with the national growth rate, increasing from 12.8 million passengers in 1994 to 13.2 million passengers in 1995. When you consider the reductions by the air carriers nationally, we did very well.

In addition, between fiscal 1993 and 1995 our revenues increased nearly 40 percent, or $21 million, while expenses increased only 24 percent, or $9 million. We're seeing a similar pattern between fiscal 1995 and 1996.

Many people have recognized that BWI is here, it's easy to get to and offers great service. Particularly impressive is the fact that Baltimore has become such a strong O&D [origin and destination] market. More than 84 percent of the traffic either originates or winds up at BWI, compared to only 60 percent four or five years ago. The significance of a strong local market is you have a local pool of people who have the need to travel as opposed to an airport that is dependent on connecting traffic that could be routed over other airports.

Kristie Kerr

Spokeswoman, Southwest Airlines

Northeast markets have a lot of potential and are al

ways a possibility. But right now, there are no plans to expand there. We only like to open a few cities per year. For the next year, the focus will be on Florida and the three new cities we're starting to serve there.

Southwest is committed to providing low fares at BWI. When we come into a market, we come in with low fares and we keep low fares. If Florida is a success, then increased service in terms of frequency is definitely in the picture. We'll have to look at market.

Robert Linowes

Maryland Aviation Commission

The window for BWI is still open because of the problems National and Dulles are having with their construction. As a result, BWI has a major opportunity to grow. But unless some definite action is taken, it won't be able to continue to. Those actions include getting an intercounty connector from Montgomery to Interstate 95 and improved access from the District of Columbia to I-95. Unless those things occur, we'll have real problems. We've also got to continue to increase BWI's marketing program in the D.C. area.

Those people who use BWI are generally pleasantly surprised. But we need stronger marketing efforts and right now there are RTC real budget problems with that. We also need to market the airport to business people in the Baltimore area that aren't using it. Also, BWI is building this great international terminal and we've got to move like crazy to get flights out of there.

David Stempler

Former executive director, International Association of Airline Passengers

The new Southwest service to Florida is a very good development for BWI. It would be more significant, of course, if ValuJet weren't operating its discount Florida service out of Dulles.

There's always been a rumbling concept that Southwest would try to go into the New York area somewhere. Working against that, however, is the congestion at New York airports that would keep Southwest from doing the quick turnarounds that they need to do. But they're obviously looking at other [Northeast] airports that are uncongested in air space and runway capacity.

The travel trends are clearly in the right direction for BWI. The big issue is the future of USAir, which is still a significant player for BWI. USAir may want to bolster their strategic points like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Charlotte. I don't think they'll make further cuts at BWI this year.

BWI will remain a key factor for companies considering relocation. It's one of the driving factors for a company in site selection.

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