BWI volume again a record

Passengers in 1998 top 15 million, a 6.5 percent rise

February 26, 1999|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport moved a record number of passengers for the fifth straight year in 1998, surpassing 15 million travelers, airport officials said yesterday.

Buoyed by the growth of its two dominant carriers -- US Airways and Southwest Airlines -- BWI's passenger traffic increased 6.5 percent last year from 1997.

The airport also set air cargo records last year, handling more than 420 million pounds -- an 18.8 percent increase from 1997.

"It was a fantastic year for us," said Maryland Aviation Administration Director Theodore Mathison, who will retire this summer after 14 years in charge of BWI. "We served more passengers last year than during the first 17 years of the airport's existence."

The volume shows that 1993's arrival of Dallas-based carrier Southwest continues to pay dividends for BWI. Besides transforming the airport into an East Coast hub for low-fare air travel, Southwest's arrival spawned last year's launch of the US Airways spinoff MetroJet, which offers comparable fares and moved more than 1 million passengers in 1998.

Nearly all of BWI's airlines moved more passengers last year than in 1997, when the airport handled about 14.1 million people. The amount of mail transported through BWI grew 13.7 percent, to 98.5 million pounds.

For the year, BWI recorded a $33 million operating profit.

State officials were enthusiastic about the news, which was announced at a news conference in the airport's observation lounge yesterday.

State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari expressed regret that the airport has not lured more intercontinental carriers to its year-old William Donald Schaefer International Terminal, which cost $140 million.

But even international traffic increased in 1998, rising 9.5 percent to 756,000 passengers. Some small carriers, such as Air Ontario and Air Aruba, increased international service at the airport last year, and Apple Vacations added new international charter flights.

"It's an indication of the momentum that BWI has," Porcari said. "We have the facilities, we have the track record, and we are very aggressively going after new international service.

US Airways and Southwest both increased service at BWI last year, and have continued the trend in 1999. MetroJet will begin service to Chicago Midway Airport, and Southwest will begin flights to Islip, N.Y., on Long Island. Both have said they intend to expand further.

BWI will begin several new construction projects this year, including an overhaul of Pier D, which is used by US Airways and TWA.

It is adding a new baggage belt, building a 362,000-square-foot cargo complex, and will dedicate a 12.5-mile bike trail, which circles the airport grounds, this spring.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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