BWI stealing toward No. 1 spot

20 million users in 12 months have it overtaking Dulles

April 17, 2001|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport handled more than 20 million passengers in the 12 months that ended Feb. 28 and continues to steal market share from competing airports in Washington, according to airport traffic statistics released yesterday.

The 20-million-passenger mark surpasses the number of travelers handled in 2000 by Washington Dulles International. Dulles has historically been the busiest of the three major commercial airports serving the Baltimore-Washington area, but Maryland aviation officials say BWI is in position to capture that title this year if growth trends continue.

The milestone underscores the accelerating need to add more parking and airplane gates at BWI, which has embarked on a $1.8 billion expansion plan in an effort to keep up with record passenger totals. "Twenty million is the plateau everybody has been looking toward and trying to estimate how soon that would be reached, and clearly it was reached much sooner than anybody expected," said John White, a BWI spokesman.

More than 1.4 million travelers used BWI in February, a 10.5 percent increase over February 2000. The monthly total marks the 28th consecutive month that the airport has posted a double-digit increase in passengers.

By comparison, Dulles - which was among the fastest- growing airports in the country a year ago - saw its monthly passenger total decline by 12.7 percent to 1.2 million. Washington's Reagan National Airport recorded 1.1 million passengers in February, an increase of 7.6 percent over the corresponding period a year earlier.

BWI captured 37.9 percent of the local passenger market in February, compared with 32.4 percent by Dulles and 29.8 percent by Reagan National, according to Maryland Aviation Administration statistics.

State officials will celebrate BWI's ongoing expansion plans today with a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of a project to add more passenger gates to Concourse A. Twelve gates will be added to the concourse, bringing the total to 15.

The $190 million concourse expansion is one of several construction projects to be launched over the next several years. Included are plans to add 12,000 parking spaces, moving sidewalks, climate-controlled passenger bridges from the garages and other improvements.

"This $1.8 billion initiative, already under way, will bring improvements necessary to accommodate our growing passenger base and cargo activity," said David L. Blackshear, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration.

BWI owes much of its growth to Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which has steadily added flights from BWI to East Coast and Midwest cities. The airline flew 551,682 passengers in February.

BWI's No. 2 carrier, US Airways, has also boosted its passenger numbers - to 357,341 last month - despite posting a heavy loss last quarter and dealing with the uncertainty of its pending merger with United Airlines.

International traffic - which has traditionally trailed growth in domestic passengers - grew 13.7 percent over February 2000 to more than 60,000.

However, Ghana Airways, which launched service to BWI last summer, continues to struggle to gain a toehold in the Baltimore market. The financially troubled airline handled 1,552 passengers in February, about a thousand less than it carried in its first months of service to BWI.

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