Passenger volume at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport dropped 3 percent last year marking the Linthicum facility's first decrease in air traffic since 2002.
The airport served 19.74 million passengers last year, down from the 20.34 million it served in 2004. BWI carried 19.69 million passengers in 2003, a 2.2 percent rise from 2002, according to figures released by the airport last week.
Jonathan Dean, airport spokesman said the slight dip in passenger traffic is primarily due to competition from Independence Air, which began flights at Washington Dulles International Airport in June 2004. The airline ceased flights there after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November, although Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier at BWI, has applied to take over its space.
While passenger traffic was down, revenue for the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates the airport, was roughly $210 million last year, a 5 percent hike over 2004, Mr. Dean said.
"Yes, passenger traffic went down slightly but in the grand scheme of things that's only one measure of our performance," he said.
Seven out of the top 10 commercial carriers saw a drop last year compared to 2004. Continental Airlines took the biggest hit, a 23.9 percent decrease.
Traffic at USAirways, once the biggest carrier at the airport in Linthicum, was down 22.5 percent and United Airlines dropped 17.2 percent. Delta had an 11.4 decrease and Northwest Airlines traffic dipped 8.6 percent. USA 3000 saw a 7.8 percent dip and America West fell 1.6 percent.
AirTran Airways saw the biggest increase in traffic. The airline served nearly 2 million passengers in 2005, 13.7 percent more than the year before. Southwest Airlines, the airport's biggest carrier, and American Airlines each saw 1 percent increases.
BWI's passenger total places it second among the region's three airports. More than 27 million passengers used
Dulles last year, making it by far the busiest in the region. Reagan National Airport saw 17.8 million passengers in 2005.
George Hamlin, a private aviation consultant based in northern Virginia, said he doesn't see the decrease in BWI passenger traffic as a long-term trend. Southwest continues to power BWI as its East Coast focal point and the airline will become even more dominant in the region this summer when it expands to Dulles, he said.
While BWI can expect competition from that move, Southwest is just trying to fill the void left behind by Independence Air.
"I think Southwest is going into Dulles because they'd rather have them cannibalize their own traffic than have someone else do it," Mr. Hamlin said.
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