The Washington region's economy is getting a lift from a new source -- not just technology, but from planes, trains and trucks as well.

Over the past year, employment at the region's trucking, rail and air transportation companies has steadily increased as the local economy's rising tide has boosted air travel and traffic in goods and supplies has grown.

Among the Bureau of Labor Statistics' major job categories, the transportation group's jobs total rose the fastest in the region, by 4.7 percent from June 1998 to June 1999.

The group's pace puts it ahead of the other categories, including services (where most of the region's technology workers are counted), wholesale and retail trade, and construction, which has been on a roll as a result of the surge in home and office construction.

"It's just the good economy," said William F. Mezger, chief economist for the Virginia Employment Commission.

The BLS's transportation category also includes communications and utilities jobs, but at least in this area, the transportation industry group has been propelled by trucking and airline companies.

Look no further than Dulles International Airport to view firsthand the acceleration of transportation hiring.

US Airways has 137 flights in and out of Dulles every day, compared with 46 a year ago. The number shot up after the airline added its reduced-fair MetroJet service to southeastern and midwestern cities.

So far this year, Atlantic Coast Airlines, flying as United Express, has carried 1.5 million passengers in and out of Dulles, a 36 percent increase over the first half of 1998.

Employment at Dulles has increased by nearly 3,500 jobs since 1995. Total passenger traffic in June was 33.5 percent higher than in June 1998, although total cargo shipments did not increase during the same period.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which serves the north side of the Washington area, tallied a 16 percent increase in passenger flights during the first half of this year, compared with 1998. Cargo traffic is down, however.

Both passenger traffic and cargo shipments at Ronald Reagan National Airport are trailing totals of a year ago.

The pickup in transportation hiring during 1999 has partially offset a dip in job creation in services, helping to keep the region's annual employment growth for June at 2.3 percent, slightly ahead of the U.S. average of 2.2 percent.

Looking just at Northern Virginia, employment in business service jobs increased by 8.6 percent over the past year on the strength of software and computer services hiring. Employment at professional services and management consulting jobs -- another technology cluster -- expanded by 7.5 percent.

But transportation kept pace with an 8.5 percent employment increase. Jobs in trucking and warehousing expanded by 4.9 percent in Virginia and by 7.2 percent in Maryland between June 1998 and June 1999.

It's not clear whether the increase in transportation jobs signals more growth for the region.

Northern Virginia business leaders are confident that Dulles Airport will continue growing as it draws on and contributes to the high-tech business boom that surrounds it.

But many of the region's transportation jobs will be particularly vulnerable if the U.S. economy is tripped up by higher interest rates or a stock market slide, economists say. The companies that ship goods to a consumer economy will feel the bite directly if consumers pull back.

Up, Up and Away

Here are job growth figures -- by category -- in the Washington metro area from June 1998 to June 1999. Figures are not seasonally adjusted:

Transportation and communications

4.7%

Construction

4.3%

Services

3.5%

State and local government

2.4%

Manufacturing

1.6%

Finance, insurance

1.1%

Trade, wholesale, retail

0.8%

Federal employment

- 0.5%

SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics