Little effect expected at BWI

2,085 who work there for US Airways apparently safe

Only the name to change

But the plans are preliminary, and some are worried

The deal

May 25, 2000|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

United Airlines isn't likely to cut flights or jobs in the short term after its planned acquisition of US Airways, which has helped Baltimore-Washington International Airport to become a major economic engine for the region, company and industry experts said yesterday.

With 4.4 million passengers and about 80 flights a day last year, US Airways has been controlling about one-fourth of BWI's business. Until recently, it was the airport's dominant carrier but is now No. 2 behind Southwest Airlines.

Even though US Airways' market share is down significantly from the early 1990s, when it began cutting jobs and service it inherited with its acquisition of Piedmont Airlines, airport officials said it factors significantly into BWI's growth.

Today, US Airways employs 2,085 at BWI.

A United spokeswoman said that airline and US Airways have little overlap in routes, and United will change nothing at BWI except the name, provided the merger is approved by the shareholders, unions and government. But the spokeswoman, Kristina Price, acknowledged that the plans are preliminary.

A BWI spokesman said things are going well for the airport and US Airways, and he didn't expect much to change. "BWI is at the center of the fourth largest metro statistical area in the country," said William Castleberry, BWI's senior vice president of marketing, development and communications.

"There are a lot of travelers from this area," he said. "They would lose a tremendous amount of the market by focusing on Reagan [National Airport]. It and the other major airport for the area [Washington Dulles] are on the other side of the Potomac River and difficult to get to from here."

Castleberry said BWI has had no difficulty leasing its space in recent years and has not had to court airlines. That shouldn't change, he said.

The fortunes of the airport could actually improve, said Curtis Grimm, chair of the Logistics and Transportation Department at the University of Maryland.

As United seeks to meet antitrust requirements and divest flights at other airports, specifically Reagan National, it may move more of the operation to BWI, he said. United also may believe that, as a larger company, it can better compete with low-cost, no-frills Southwest.

US Airways' response to Southwest was the creation of MetroJet, but the "airline-within-an-airline," which began service in June 1998, has not been able to close the gap in market share.

Others said little would change at BWI, but Lynda Maxwell, president of Destinations Inc., a travel agency in Columbia, said the deal would likely mean less business for the airport as other airlines there join forces and possibly squeeze out smaller, low-cost carriers, such as Frontier Airlines.

If fares rise, then people will fly less, she said. When tickets are cheap, she said, a family might splurge on flights to Florida for a trip to Disney World. "When the prices go up, it's a whole different story," she said. "They might take a day to drive or look at other options."

Nearly a dozen US Airways employees, serving in several different positions, said yesterday that they were worried their positions would be moved or eliminated.

Some, who learned of the merger from the newspaper or television or from colleagues when they arrived at work, said they'd seen a memo to workers from US Airways' corporate office that said there will be no immediate changes and their jobs were guaranteed for two years. The memo did not promise that workers wouldn't be relocated or benefits wouldn't be changed.

Some said rumors circulated last year when the airline painted its planes to look similar to United's planes. The carriers had already shared the colors navy and gray.

One said, "There are always rumors. We'll all have to wait and see."

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