BALTIMORE – AirTran Airways, a low-fare airline, bumped up its starting date for flights out of Baltimore/Washington International Airport from early next year to December to take advantage of weakened airlines that trimmed operations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The deepest BWI cuts are expected from US Airways. The airline plans to eliminate 51 of its 75 routes from BWI in December, according to published reports.
The airline industry has been particularly hard hit by the Sept. 11 hijackings and crashes because all flights were halted for a time and because passengers fear a repetition.
To stanch airline layoffs and revenue losses, Congress passed a $15 billion airline industry financial aid package, but even that couldn’t help US Airways. The airline will lay off 11,000 of 46,000 employees nationwide. There are 2,240 US Airways employees at BWI, and it isn’t known how many of these will be let go.
“With some of the pulled out activity, we accelerated,” said Robert Fornaro, AirTran president and chief operating officer, who now thinks AirTran’s business at BWI could be “a far bigger operation down the road.”
AirTran will begin flying three daily nonstop flights out of BWI to Atlanta and Boston Dec. 12. In February, it will add a fourth daily flight to Atlanta and two more flights to Boston. The airline plans to expand to other cities by next summer, said Fornaro.
AirTran was one of just two airlines to post a profit during the industry’s devastating third quarter from July to September, said Fornaro.
Southwest, a top competitor, also made a profit.
Southwest is also BWI’s major carrier, operating 2,760 daily departures in 59 cities.
Southwest has 16 gates at BWI, while AirTran will operate out of one in December.
US Airways occupied 32 gates and US Airways Express occupied 18. Those numbers are expected to fall when it cuts its operations.
The addition of AirTran to BWI is a sign of Maryland’s strong economy, said Gov. Parris N. Glendening who joined Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Fornaro at Tuesday’s announcement.
“At a time when maintaining the status quo is seen as positive, we are expanding,” said Glendening.
AirTran operates 330 daily departures in 35 cities from its hub at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport offering fares up to 70 percent lower than major airlines, said Fornaro. Baltimore will be its 36th destination.
To seal the deal, BWI offered AirTran a three-year marketing package similar to what it offers other airlines. BWI will give AirTran advertising money and help develop marketing techniques for the airline, however the value of the package was not released.
AirTran isn’t the only airline trying to expand to BWI. Even with airline cutbacks and layoffs, there’s still a waiting list for gates, said Beverley Swaim-Staley, BWI executive director.
“We are optimistic that we will be able to fill any voids left by US Airways,” said Swaim-Staley. She said she had expected US Airways to reduce its operations at BWI before Sept. 11 for other reasons.
AirTran merged with ValuJet in 1996, but dropped ValuJet’s name after a ValuJet plane crashed in the Florida Everglades killing all 110 people on board in May 1996. The airline has had no major problems under the AirTran label.
– 30 – CNS 10-09-01