For the third consecutive year, BWI Marshall Airport set a record for commercial passenger traffic, with 22.68 million travelers passing through its terminal in 2012, airport officials announced.
The 1.3 percent increase over 2011 comes during a time of expansion of airport facilities and by commercial carriers.
"This is great for the region and great for the businesses we support," said Paul Wiedefeld, executive director of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. "These numbers show the strength of this region. People are spending money to travel, and they are spending it here."
Southwest led the way, serving more than 13 million passengers, a 4.2 percent increase. AirTran Airways, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest, tallied slightly more than 3 million passengers. The combined total accounted for 71.2 percent of passenger market share in 2012.
"We were looking for a place to grow, and we found it at BWI," said airline spokesman Paul Flaningan. "Our footprint has the potential to get a little bigger once the integration of AirTran is completed."
The availability of low-cost fares grew last September, when Spirit Airlines shifted its Washington operation from Reagan National to BWI and offered service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Dallas/Fort Worth. Recently, Spirit announced it would begin flying from BWI to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Las Vegas in April.
The good news spilled over to international traffic — long a drag on BWI's performance. Overseas travel grew nearly 21 percent over the previous year, aided by the introduction of Condor Airlines and its seasonal service to Frankfurt, Germany, a major European hub.
Condor expects to resume flights this summer, and AirTran will begin service to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in April.
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"It's a good sign of what's to come," said Wiedefeld, noting that in two years, BWI's international traffic is expected to grow when Southwest's $100 million international terminal at Houston's Hobby Airport opens with flights to the Caribbean and Latin America.
Meanwhile, work continues on a $100 million project that will provide a secure connector between Concourses B and C with moving sidewalks and a new nine-lane security checkpoint. In addition, Concourse C, the oldest part of the airport terminal, is being transformed into a modern passenger boarding area more like Concourses A and B, where Southwest operates. The makeover will add 8,500 square feet of walkway, retail shops and waiting lounges.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that the numbers showed BWI continues to be a business and tourism gateway and job generator.
"This record-setting achievement affirms the airport's role as a critical transportation and economic development resource for Maryland and the National Capital region," O'Malley said.
Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, called BWI "a vital part of our competitiveness as a region," and an important economic asset for the state and city and a boon for business and leisure travelers.
"The increase in international traffic is a positive sign of progress and additional international routes should be pursued as part of the airport's growth strategy," said Fry. "We are fortunate that BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport continues to be a leader and be a significant part of our transportation system."