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ArlingtonNewsLocal airports battle back, but have long road ahead

Local airports battle back, but have long road ahead

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It’s a trailing indicator – more recent data have shown reasons for some optimism – but the fact remains that local airports continue to face challenges attracting passengers.

Year-over-year passenger counts were down by nearly two-thirds at Washington Dulles International Airport and more than four-fifths at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in February, according to new data from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

A total of 312,617 passengers traveled through Reagan National the second month of the year, down 82.2 percent from the passenger count of February 2020. The 527,196 passengers at Dulles represented a decline of 66.1 percent.

Combined, the dropoff at the two facilities was 74.6 percent.

At Reagan National, dominant carrier American Airlines saw its passenger totals reduced 81.5 percent, although its overall share of passengers rose to 53.8 percent from 51.9 percent a year before.

At Dulles, dominant carrier United Airlines’ domestic-passenger count was down 59.1 percent and its international-passenger count was off 75.7 percent. Its market share has grown from 68.4 percent a year before to a fortress-like 78.5 percent in February 2021.

The two airports are facing different challenges on the road back to normal times:

• At Reagan National, the downturn is due largely to the whopping decline in business travel since the onset of the pandemic, and because the facility largely handles O&D (origin and destination) passengers, rather than those transiting between Point A and Point B.

• At Dulles, declines in international service have had the biggest impact. In addition to United’s dropoff, declines have included an 84.6-percent decline in Lufthansa’s passenger count, an 89.3-percent decline for Air France and a 91.2-percent drop for British Airways. Air China service remains suspended in its entirety.

For the 12 months ending in February, passenger counts were down 80.5 percent at Reagan National and 75.4 percent at Dulles. Combined, the dropoff was 77.9 percent.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, operated by the Maryland state government, the 751,501 passengers going through the gates in February represented a decline of 58 percent from a year before. Throughout the pandemic, BWI has benefited from its focus on domestic leisure travel, a segment of the market that has held up more strongly than business travel.

Southwest Airlines, long the dominant carrier at BWI, retained that distinction February, with a passenger share of 71.7 percent.

For the 12 months ending in February, the passenger total at BWI was down 66.8 percent from a year before.

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