By KATE PRAHLAD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Baltimore/Washington International Airport recorded its second-busiest month ever in July, trailing only the pre-9/11 month of August 2001 for passengers, according to a Maryland Aviation Administration report.
The 2,037,649 travelers who passed through BWI in July put the month 53,367 shy of the all-time record that was set just before the 9/11 attacks drove down air travel across the country, according to the report released this week.
The numbers at BWI "point to the strength of the marketplace," said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration.
"The Washington-Baltimore region is among the largest, fastest-growing and wealthiest in the nation," he said. "That's a good combination for airlines."
But passengers have also taken advantage of BWI's reputation as the "low-fare capital of the Mid-Atlantic states," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.
Stempler said rising numbers of air travelers can be seen across the country, but BWI especially draws travelers because of carriers such as Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways.
During July, Southwest Airlines carried 53 percent of the travelers flying through BWI, and AirTran increased its BWI passenger load by more than 20 percent for the month, said state aviation administration officials.
Besides low fares, investments at BWI in parking and terminals helped attract passengers, said John Heimlich, chief economist for the Air Transport Association. He also noted that July is always the peak month for travel.
Nationally, airlines have kept domestic fares relatively flat with last year, Heimlich said.
"But the key point is they (fares) are still below what they were in 2000, which stimulates a lot of volume in a healthy economy," he said.
Dean said the July numbers are part of a recovery trend that began some time ago.
"The airport has essentially seen (pre-9/11) numbers in the past two years or three years, or close to them," he said, adding the airport saw improvements each year.
From June to July of this year, the number of commercial passengers grew by 124,741 at BWI, and passenger loads are only expected to get bigger.
"It's been a big, big summer, and we're expecting the upcoming holiday period to be even stronger," Stempler said. "The only things to blow totals down would be relatively bad events, like terrorist attacks or an economic recession, but no one wants to see that."
Other area airports experienced the same rise in passengers sooner.
Both Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport surpassed their pre-9/11 passenger records in 2004, said Courtney Prebich, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. National exceeded its August 2001 numbers in April 2004, and Dulles did the same in June 2004.
But Stempler warned that there is a downside for passengers to strong passenger demand and high traffic loads.
"Expect longer lines everywhere," he said. "Check-ins, security checkpoints and even the airport Starbucks."