BWI traffic drops 6.4%

Mild decline in Oct. leaves it region's most active airport

November 30, 2001|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport reported a 6.4 percent year-over-year decline in passenger traffic in October - far less than the average 23 percent decline experienced by airports nationwide and substantially less than the region's other two major international airports.

Despite major cutbacks by the airport's No. 2 carrier, US Airways, the latest numbers show BWI has emerged as the region's busiest airport in the wake of an aviation crisis that has crippled the industry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The airport captured 48 percent of the region's commercial passenger market in October, compared with 44 percent for Washington's Dulles International Airport and 8 percent for Reagan National Airport.

Passenger totals were down nearly 11 percent for the month at Dulles and about 80 percent at Reagan National, where traffic remains restricted because of concerns about its proximity to the nation's capital.

"BWI continues to be the low-fare capital of the mid-Atlantic region, so I think that's what is protecting it in these down times," said David Stempler, president of the Air Passengers Association.

While the numbers suggest a strong rebound for BWI, it remains to be seen whether other airlines will fill the gap left when Arlington, Va.-based US Airways operates its last MetroJet flights Sunday. MetroJet, which operated 49 daily flights at BWI before Sept. 11, is being dismantled as part of US Airways' efforts to cut unprofitable routes and shift more of its business to smaller regional jets that are less costly to operate on short-haul routes.

The shifting of equipment means US Airways will continue to operate a large number of flights at BWI, but the use of smaller planes and the elimination of some routes will result in significantly fewer passengers.

Before Sept. 11, the airline flew 75 mainline jet flights daily and 74 US Airways Express flights. Currently, the airline operates 46 mainline jet flights and 77 express flights. Beginning next week, the schedule will switch to 40 mainline flights and 75 express flights, for a total of 115 daily, US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said.

Even with MetroJet still in the mix, US Airways' recent pullback at BWI is already dragging down passenger totals. The airline handled 250,554 passengers at BWI in October, down 40 percent from the previous year.

BWI will get some help from AirTran Airways, which plans to launch service at BWI next month. As it phases in service, the low-fare airline will operate about 14 flights daily, hitting some of the same Florida markets formerly handled by MetroJet.

In addition, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines - the only major airline nationwide that did not announce cutbacks after Sept. 11 - continues to hire more employees and expand its BWI operation. The airline handled 679,298 passengers in October, an increase of nearly 8 percent over October 2000.

Some of the increase can be attributed to the introduction of new flights to Norfolk, Va., last month, a spokeswoman for the airline said. The airline also has gained passengers who otherwise would have flown out of Reagan National.

"At the same time that other airlines had to cut back their schedules, we have maintained our schedule and did not cut any flights and continue to see some very full flights," said Christine Turneabe-Connelly, a spokeswoman for Southwest.

Other airlines also reported year-over-year increases. Delta Air Lines saw passenger totals increase 12.5 percent; UAL's United Airlines, 4.7 percent; American Airlines, 10.2 percent; and Continental Airlines, 18 percent.

Meanwhile, international traffic at BWI declined 7.6 percent in October to 61,979 passengers.

"To the extent BWI can keep its losses in the 6 [percent] to 10 percent range, it will augur well for the airport," Stempler said.

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