BWI one of two major airports to see passenger traffic rise in 2009

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; B04

Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport saw a modest increase in passengers last year, making it one of only two major airports in the country that experienced growth.

According to BWI officials, nearly 21 million passengers flew out of the airport in 2009, an increase of 2.3 percent over 2008. The only other large airport that saw an uptick in passengers was San Francisco International Airport, which experienced a 0.5 percent increase, according to San Francisco airport officials.

BWI Executive Director Paul Wiedefeld said there are a number of reasons for the airport's growth, but perhaps the most important is the strength of the D.C. region's economy, compared with those of other large metropolitan areas.

"The region is strong," Wiedefeld said. "The product we offer, with the low-fare carriers and the legacy carriers, are a good mix. . . . I just think it's a combination of things."

Wiedefeld also cites BWI's location between Baltimore and Washington, drawing from both markets; its combination of low-fare carriers and "legacy carriers"; and its convenience, with access off major highways.

Debby McElroy, executive vice president of the Airports Council International-North America, said the gains at BWI can probably be attributed to growth at Southwest Airlines, which accounts for 52 percent of the airport's market share. This month, 179 Southwest flights will depart each day from BWI, and during the summer the number be 182, airport officials said.

In a year when air travel was down 8 percent, according to McElroy, BWI outpaced all of its counterparts. McElroy said passenger traffic at Dulles International Airport was down 2 percent last year, Philadelphia International saw a 3.7 percent drop, and Atlanta International, the country's busiest airport, had a decrease of 2.2 percent.

Southwest is joined by AirTran and BWI newcomer JetBlue as the airport's low-fare carriers. AirTran, which had 3.3 million passengers at BWI last year, is the second-largest and the fastest-growing airline at the airport. With 16 percent growth last year, it represents 16 percent of the airport's market share.

"Last year, price was an even more important factor for all travelers, both business and leisure," MeElroy said. "With the U.S. economy the way that it is, many business travelers have expanded their search, looking for ways to save. Southwest has recognized that and has done more outreach to business travelers."

Business executives Jerry Shelly and Frank Laughlin of Birmingham, Ala., said they go out of their way to fly in and out of BWI because of the airport's convenience and Southwest's flight schedule and fares.

Shelly and Laughlin flew into BWI on Monday, even though their business meetings were in the Washington suburbs.

Shelly said there is less hassle at BWI, and that is what business travelers look for. "I made the comment to Frank earlier that it is easy to get baggage and easy to get the car here," he said.

Shantikumar Patel, who sat on a bench near the Southwest check-in counter reading a newspaper before his flight, said he prefers the drive from his Silver Spring home to BWI over the ride to Reagan National or Dulles.

"It's easier than struggling with the traffic," he said.

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