For Second Year, BWI Logs Record Numbers

By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Rebounding from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport notched a record 21,044,384 commercial passengers last year, a number that is expected to jump with population growth from the expansion of nearby Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, airport officials said.

Airport officials attribute much of BWI's growth to the success of Southwest Airlines, which accounted for roughly half of last year's passengers, as well as to BWI's ability to draw customers from the greater Washington region.

BWI ranked as the second-busiest commercial airport in the region last year, behind Dulles International, which reported 24.7 million passengers. In third place was Reagan National Airport, with nearly 18.7 million passengers.

About half of BWI's passengers came primarily from Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the District and Northern Virginia, said Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman. The other half came from the Baltimore market, which includes Anne Arundel and Howard counties, Dean said. BWI also draws passengers from Delaware, southern Pennsylvania and other parts of its home state, such as Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

BWI's success comes with an expanding reputation as a low-cost airport, Dean said. AirTran Airways has become BWI's No. 2 carrier, with nearly 2.5 million passengers last year, a 16.4 percent jump from 2006.

Reliance on discount airlines has led to boom-and-bust cycles at other airports, which have suffered as budget carriers have gone under. Southwest has cut some flights at BWI, Dean said. And the airline industry has suffered as a result of rising fuel costs, he said.

Last year's record is the second straight for BWI, which logged more than 20 million passengers in 2006.

Dean said that although BWI might not enjoy a third straight record year, "January numbers came in very strong," with 1.5 million passengers, roughly a 4.3 percent jump from last year, Dean said.

"Southwest has been one of the most successful airlines in the industry for years," Dean said.

As BWI grows, it is preparing to benefit from population and job growth in Maryland because of the Pentagon's base realignment and closure (BRAC) plan, which will add jobs to Fort Meade.

The airport played a major role in Maryland's ability to come away as a victor in the military's plans. Robert C. Leib, Anne Arundel's special assistant for base realignment issues, said BWI was seen as a linchpin of "the whole transportation network that's in our state."

Anne Arundel officials estimated that the airport accounted for $2.7 billion in economic activity in the county, Leib said.

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