Passenger traffic set a record at BWI in '95 13.2 million flew despite fewer flights

February 13, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF Passenger

Passenger traffic is not soaring at BWI anymore, but the airport nevertheless finished 1995 with a record-setting 13.2 million passengers.

Despite a reduction in flights and a downturn in the economy, Baltimore-Washington International Airport managed to increase traffic slightly last year, moving upward from 12.8 million in 1994 to 13.2 million passengers.

The 2.7 percent growth rate looked skimpy beside the whopping 34 percent increase for 1994, when an explosion of low fares lured thousands of new travelers. Still, the growth in domestic and international passengers nearly doubled the 1.4 percent rate for U.S. airline traffic nationwide, as reported by the Air Transport Association in Washington, D.C.

"BWI held onto its tremendous passenger growth and it grew at twice that of the national average," Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead said yesterday.

The growth in passengers here and elsewhere slowed as airlines, hoping to finally make money again, downsized their fleets and cut flights. Overall, BWI averaged 653 flights a day, including cargo and charter, down about 20 flights a day from the previous year.

"We served more people on fewer flights," Mr. Winstead pointed out.

The number of passengers using scheduled domestic service grew from 11.9 million to 12.2 million, and the number of passengers taking scheduled international flights rose from 637,849 to 699,744.

Airport officials say that Baltimore, once a hub for connecting traffic, has become a much stronger O&D (origin and destination) market. More than 84 percent of the traffic today originates or winds up at BWI, compared with 60 percent four or five years ago.

With a strong local market, the airport is less dependent on connecting traffic, which airlines can route over other airports.

For the second straight year, the state-owned and operated BWI ranked behind National Airport, but slightly ahead of Washington-Dulles International Airport, in its share of Washington area airport traffic. BWI's 13.2 million passengers amounted to 32.2 percent of the total traffic, compared with 12.3 million, or 30.1 percent for Dulles. National handled 15.4 million passengers, or 37.7 percent.

In the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, National long has been the dominant airport, but Dulles and BWI have been gaining. In 1981, for instance, BWI was handling only 19 percent of the market.

BWI's huge growth spurt began in 1993, when the arrival of Southwest Airlines set off a fare war that drew thousands of new passengers from as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as Virginia. A 1995 parking survey conducted by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council revealed that as many passengers now come from Montgomery County as from Baltimore County.

Despite Southwest Airlines' new service from BWI to Florida this year, attracting passengers from the Washington area could prove more challenging and could prompt more discount service at Dulles and National.

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