- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The sky got a bit more crowded above the nation’s capital last year.

Ronald Reagan Washington National and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall airports served a record number of commercial passengers in 2006.

And while the area’s busiest airport, Washington Dulles International, reported a 15 percent decrease in commercial passengers in 2006 compared with its record high the previous year, 2006 still was the second-busiest year in the facility’s history.

A total of 62.2 million passengers used the three airports in 2006, according to reports released yesterday by BWI and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Reagan airports. Only 2005’s total of 64.5 million passengers is higher.

“What these figures really reflect is that the Washington region has a strong and growing economy,” said Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, a nonprofit group that promotes the expansion and enhancement of Dulles and Reagan airports.

BWI served almost 20.7 million passengers in 2006, a 4.8 percent increase over 2005, when 19.7 million fliers used the Linthicum, Md., facility.

Southwest Airlines was BWI’s leading carrier last year, serving almost 10.7 million passengers and accounting for more than 51 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic.

Air Tran Airways was BWI’s second-leading carrier in 2006, with more than 2.13 million passengers — a 10.5 percent increase from 2005.

BWI “is an important economic engine that helps drive the development of Maryland and the entire national capital region,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said.

Reagan’s 18.5 million passengers in 2006 was about 4 percent more than the airport’s previous record of 17.8 million passengers in 2005. Last year’s total was a 16 percent increase over the 15.9 million passengers who used the airport in 2004.

US Airways is Reagan’s leading carrier, operating almost half of all commercial flights from the airport.

Dulles served 23 million passengers in 2006 — about 4 million fewer passengers than 2005. But last year’s total was about 1 percent more than the 22.8 million passengers who used the airport in 2004, and a 26.5 percent increase over the 17 million passengers served in 2003.

United Airlines is the leading carrier at Dulles, operating about two-thirds of the airport’s more than 400 daily domestic airline departures.

“Our 2006 numbers prove that strong demand for air service in the Washington region continues,” said James Bennett, president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The drop in passengers at Dulles is attributed mostly to the demise of Independence Air, which was the airport’s leading carrier by number of flights for most of 2005 before the budget airline filed for bankruptcy in November 2005 and ceased flying two months later.

Several carriers since have introduced new service at Dulles, including United and low-cost carriers JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, which has helped mitigate the loss of Independence, airport authority officials said.

“To be honest, I thought service at Dulles would drop more than [15 percent] with the collapse of Independence Air,” Mr. Schefer said. “The fact that it hasn’t both attests to the strength of the market and the fact that Independence Air showed the potential for lower fares at Dulles.”

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