A very good '99 for BWI

Passenger traffic sets record and Dec. use isn't tallied yet

`Preparing for more'

Southwest Airlines leads airport's rise to U.S. No. 2 in growth

Air travel

January 01, 2000|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport wishes it could live 1999 all over again.

Maryland's international gateway will set a record for passenger traffic for the sixth straight year in 1999. When the numbers are tallied, BWI will likely have handled more than 17 million passengers last year -- up at least 14 percent. It has become the second-fastest-growing airport in the country.

BWI is claiming more than 16 million passengers handled last year, a million more than in 1998. And the passengers who flew in December have not been counted.

Record-setting statistics have become the expectation these days at BWI. Officials at the Maryland Aviation Administration say traffic in November rose 23 percent compared with the year before -- the 20th straight month during which travel exceeded the same month in the previous year.

But business in 1999 grew so much, so fast, even the state officials who presided over it admit to being a bit caught off guard.

"We expected strong growth, but it's even stronger than our last prediction," said state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari. "And we're preparing for more."

According to Airports Council International, a Switzerland-based industry association, BWI has been the second-fastest-growing airport in the United States, behind its regional rival, Washington Dulles International Airport.

Among all airports throughout the world, BWI ranked 61st largest in 1998, just behind Dulles.

As in past years, the airport owed much of its growth to the expansion of Dallas-based carrier Southwest Airlines, whose no-frills, low-fare service has transformed BWI into a regional hub for low-cost travel.

Southwest became the airport's largest customer in March 1999 by carrying slightly more passengers than US Airways. And since then, it's been a romp.

In November, Southwest flew 493,993 travelers through BWI, a 59 percent increase from the year before. US Airways and its subsidiary MetroJet flew 393,698 passengers, up 12 percent.

International traffic also rose during November, good news for airport officials struggling to fill the $140 million William Donald Schaefer International Terminal, built in 1997. The airport handled 57,652 passengers traveling to or from foreign destinations, up 4.65 percent from November a year ago.

BWI officials are facing some headaches in the new year.

Its growth has led to congested parking lots around the passenger terminals, and airport officials say the problem can't wait for the airport's long-term construction plan to kick in.

The airport is making regular use of a gravel parking lot once used only for emergencies, and BWI Executive Director David L. Blackshear has said short-term parking close to the main terminals must be improved soon as well.

The airport will continue an $85 million project to expand and renovate piers A and B of the main passenger terminal, and a $17.5 million renovation of Pier D. Officials promise the construction won't interrupt travel.

"We have plans in place to make sure we have adequate parking and transit service, and highway access to accommodate more growth," Porcari said. "And there will be more."

Top BWI carriers' passenger traffic

Number of passengers moved through Baltimore-Washington International Airport by the airport's four largest carriers during November 1999 and November 1998.

Airline Nov. 1999 Nov. 1998 % change

Southwest 493,993 311,018 +58.9

US Airways 393,698 351,344 +12

United 104,302 104,397 -.09

Delta 95,149 83,754 +13.6

SOURCE: Maryland Aviation Administration

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