Is USAir in BWI's future? Shifting strategy: Regardless of airline's actions, local airport will continue to thrive.


BUSINESS AT Baltimore-Washington International Airport remains on the upswing. Traffic for this year is in the range of 13.5 million passengers. A state-of-the-art international terminal is under construction. Competing airlines look hungrily at the vast potential of BWI's affluent and populous market.

Yet there are troubling signs the airport's biggest carrier, USAir, soon will drop BWI as a connecting hub and sharply reduce its 85 daily jet flights. What the airline wants to do is offer a discount air service that could compete with the popular, and inexpensive, Southwest Airlines flights from BWI.

That could hurt BWI's rapid growth, at least in the short term. There would be fewer destinations available at BWI served by direct flights. There would also be a drop in USAir transfer passengers, which would hurt many of the airport's concession stands.

But market forces are working in BWI's favor. Only 20 percent of passengers using the airport are connecting to other flights. That means some 11 million passengers -- nearly all from the Baltimore-Washington region -- will continue to use BWI.

And if USAir succeeds in getting its unions to agree to discount air service, the new low-fare flights could prompt a price war with Southwest. That would only add to BWI's appeal to cost-conscious travelers.

Next summer or fall, both the international terminal and the light-rail line connecting BWI to downtown Baltimore will open. That could be accompanied by announcements of additional overseas flights from BWI. Foreign travel continues to be a promising growth area for the airport, and the spacious new facilities should be a big advantage.

The ease of travel by car to BWI and the convenience of the airport (once the current construction crush ends) make the pTC future bright. Regardless of what USAir eventually decides, this region's demand for air service won't abate. And every one of USAir's competitors knows it.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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