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USAir president vows to stay, compete at BWI Airline has slashed daily departures


Despite significant cutbacks at Baltimore-Washington International Airport by USAir, the carrier's president, Seth E. Schofield, underscored yesterday the airline's commitment there and vowed to compete vigorously against any new carriers.

In a speech here yesterday morning, Mr. Schofield cautioned, however, that USAir's financial condition -- dominated by the loss of $1 billion over the past four years -- would continue to dictate decisions at BWI and elsewhere.

"It is not a blind proposition but a business proposition that determines the frequency of service and the type of aircraft," he told about 250 people at a downtown breakfast sponsored by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

USAir is the largest carrier at BWI, serving roughly half of theairport's 27,000 daily passengers. But its presence there has declined drastically during the past three years, with the number of daily departures dropping to 183 from 250.

Since 1990, the Arlington, Va.-based airline has scrapped one-third of its jet flights out of BWI, opting for more cost-efficient commuter service. Customer demand, USAir said, was not strong enough to support the number of jet flights it once operated at BWI.

This year, however, USAir has added daily, nonstop jet service to St. Louis, Columbus, Ohio, San Francisco and some seasonal flights to Florida. In addition, it will add two more nonstop flights toBoston next month.

Overall, the number of available USAir seats out of BWI is up 12 percent over last May, Mr. Schofield said.

"What's good for USAir is good for the state of Maryland," Mr. Schofield said, reiterating an oft-repeated theme that represents a double-edged economic sword for the state.

While Mr. Schofield said that USAir will continue to make tough business decisions, Gov. William Donald Schaefer later told the audience the state likewise has financial responsibilities.

"We can't afford not to bring in new airlines," the governor said.

Earlier this year, state transportation officials were prepared to offer former airline executive Frank Lorenzo financial incentives to use BWI as a hub for his new Friendship Airlines. But state efforts to lure the airline ended abruptly amid intense opposition from labor unions and politicians.

Mr. Schofield said yesterday that USAir had not pressured the state to abandon its efforts to secure Friendship Airlines.

"We have never had any discussion about limiting competition at BWI," Mr. Schofield said. "I don't feel any different about Lorenzo coming than any other airline."

Earlier, he told the audience that USAir "will compete vigorously against all comers."

A low-cost, start-up airline, however, could undercut USAir fares just as it has begun to see improvement in operating revenues.

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