BWI still No. 1 in region despite loss of MetroJet

Passenger total down 10.4% - less than U.S. average

January 15, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport recorded a 10.4 percent year-over-year decline in passenger traffic in November as US Airways began to shut down its struggling MetroJet division in an effort to cut costs, state aviation officials reported yesterday.

Despite the loss of a low-cost competitor, BWI continues to be the busiest of the region's three major airports. The airport handled 1.5 million passengers in November, compared with 1.3 million by Washington Dulles International Airport and 646,173 by Reagan National Airport.

BWI also is outperforming airports nationwide, where passenger totals have declined an average of about 20 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group.

"We're certainly satisfied with the numbers, and they're well above the national average," said Amy Knight, a spokeswoman for the airport.

However, BWI's 44 percent-share of the region's commercial passenger market will likely shrink as the full impact of US Airways' financial troubles begins to show in the airport's passenger totals.

The Arlington, Va.-based carrier - the second-biggest user at BWI behind Southwest Airlines - reduced MetroJet flights throughout November, but didn't completely close the Baltimore-based operation until Dec. 2. The demise of MetroJet, which resulted in a 60 percent reduction in US Airways' flights at BWI, will be reflected in the airport's December passenger report.

The airport could face more pain as Washington's Reagan National begins to reclaim business lost to BWI after the terrorist attacks. Federal regulators restricted flights at Reagan in response to concerns about the airport's proximity to the Capitol and other federal buildings. But those flights are gradually being allowed to return, resulting in further reductions in US Airways flights at BWI.

US Airways currently operates 97 flights daily out of BWI, down from 115 on Dec. 10 - more than a week after MetroJet was eliminated. Of the 97 remaining, only 23 are mainline jet flights, while the rest are smaller US Airways Express commuter flights.

The total will shrink to 92 next month as more flights are shifted to Reagan, a spokesman for US Airways said yesterday. Some flights are expected to transfer to Reagan in March. Before Sept. 11, US Airways operated 75 mainline jet flights and 74 commuter flights at BWI.

The reduction in flying is reflected in US Airways' November passenger totals. The carrier handled 231,974 passengers at BWI in November, down 45.6 percent from Nov. 2000.

Some of the loss is being absorbed by rival carriers, which have increased service to BWI in order to capture former US Airways customers. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the only major carrier that hasn't implemented cuts since Sept. 11, handled 656,917 passengers in November, up 5 percent from November 2000. Delta Air Lines served 106,200 passengers, up 13.1 percent; and UAL's United Airlines flew 104,084 passengers, up 8.6 percent.

"BWI has had a tremendous increase in traffic over the last year, so they could fall a ways and still do OK," said Morton Beyer of Morton Beyer and Agnew Inc., an Arlington-based aviation consulting firm. "Southwest will pick up most of the spill."

Airport officials are also banking on AirTran, a budget carrier that began serving BWI in December. The Orlando, Fla.-based airline expects to offer about 14 flights per day by March.

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