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Air cargo up 19% for year at BWI Area's rapid growth of warehouse centers draws freight carriers


The number of passengers at BWI grew only slightly last year, but the volume of air freight surged 19 percent as cargo carriers capitalized on the boom in warehouse distribution centers in the Baltimore area.

Air freight jumped from 232 million pounds to 277 million pounds, state officials said yesterday. Most of the cargo at the state-owned Baltimore-Washington International Airport is handled by all-cargo carriers, including Federal Express Corp., United Parcel Service of America Inc., Emery Air Freight Corp. and Burlington.

"Maryland is being increasingly more competitive as a distribution center," Maryland Secretary of Transportation David L. Winstead said.

Indeed, Maryland's distribution industry has grown substantially, with expansion by such companies as Saks Fifth Avenue, Time Warner Inc., General Electric Co. and United Parcel Service.

Anticipating continued strong growth in the domestic cargo market, BWI officials are building a $7 million facility that will add 57,000 square feet to the 300,000-square-foot cargo complex later this year.

In addition, airport authorities are planning a midfield cargo facility, with construction to begin by the end of the year.

"We're putting money into facilities to stay ahead of the curve," Winstead said.

While BWI boasts strong domestic, all-cargo carriers, it lacks significant freight service by "combination carriers" -- passenger planes that carry cargo in their holds -- because the airport is served by mostly low-capacity, narrow-bodied jets.

As a result, freight forwarders often find more attractive rates by consolidating their cargo at gateways such as Dulles in Virginia and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

State transportation officials have been trying to integrate passenger and cargo growth strategies as they court other international airlines.

The centerpiece for international growth at BWI is the $130 million terminal now under construction. But thus far, the new facility -- which will be a third the size of the entire main terminal -- has attracted no new carriers.

Currently, most of BWI's international flights go to Canada, South America and the Caribbean. Only two carriers, Icelandair and British Airways, provide regularly scheduled service to Europe; there are no direct flights to Asia.

Weather disruptions

The number of international passengers at BWI declined from 841,000 in 1995 to 809,000 last year, primarily because of bad weather here and hurricane damage in the Caribbean, airport officials said.

In Baltimore-Washington area airport traffic, BWI retained its position as second busiest, behind National Airport, but slightly ahead of Dulles. The total 13.4 million passengers at BWI amounted to 32.5 percent of the total traffic, compared with 12.8 million, or 30.9 percent for Dulles. National handled 15 million passengers, or 36.6 percent.

On the domestic side, however, the number of passengers grew to 12.6 million last year from 12.2 million in 1995, or 2.4 percent. That was half the 5.1 percent overall domestic growth rate reported by the Air Transport Association in Washington. Roughly the same rate of growth is expected at BWI in 1997.

During the past two years, BWI has experienced modest growth following the whopping 34 percent increase for 1994, when an explosion of low fares, sparked by the arrival of Southwest Airlines, lured thousands of new travelers. Several airlines at BWI experienced double-digit growth in passengers last year, with Southwest leading the way at 38 percent, followed by Delta Air Lines at 21 percent and United Airlines with 13 percent.

Still uncertain is what changes USAir will make at BWI this year. The airline handled 46 percent of BWI's overall traffic last year, down from 50 percent the previous year. Airline officials are expected to further reduce flights there, although they may use BWI as a hub for a low-fare operation if they are successful in obtaining cost-cutting concessions from their employees.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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