Airports, Airlines, Aviation

The Airport Battle of Baltimore-Washington

It’s rare in this day and age of air travel to have three large airports centered around one metropolitan area. The Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area is home to around nine millions residents and can lay claim to having Dulles International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International and Ronald Reagan National Airport at its disposal. In terms of non-stop domestic and international routes, the Baltimore-Washington region is really hitting its stride with 151 non-stop domestic and international routes it out paces big cities like Los Angeles with 133 and Philadelphia with 116. The variety and amount of routes available to passengers has been rewarding for the regions airport economy. Although the growth has been impressive the competition between the airports remains intense, with BWI taking the reigns and Dulles slightly falling behind.

Nonstop routes from Baltimore/Washington, Washington Dulles and National, November 2014. (Innovata FlightMaps Analytics)
Nonstop routes from Baltimore/Washington, Washington Dulles and National, November 2014. (Innovata FlightMaps Analytics)

The Players 

Baltimore -Washington International – BWI is the domestic giant of the region. In 2013, 22.5 million passengers flew through BWI, compared with 21.9 million at Dulles and 20.4 million at National. If you have flown through BWI most likely it was on the leisure flyers ride of choice, Southwest. With a solid strangle hold on traffic at BWI, Southwest accounted for 58% of all air traffic and that is excluding AirTran flights. The top five destinations from BWI are Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, and Las Vegas, a mix of leisure and business destinations.


BWI sets itself apart from the others in a few categories. Its location just south of Baltimore provides easy access to both cities. You are short drive to downtown Baltimore and under an hours drove to downtown DC (depending on DC traffic). Both can also be accessed by public transportation. The airport is simple to navigate and you can easily walk in between terminals (I am looking at you Dulles). BWI unlike Regan has space to expand. In July 2013, BWI Airport and the Maryland Aviation Administration launched a 3-year $125 million construction project. This project will include modernizing concourse D, a new airside connection linking concourse D and E, and the new configuration of the concourses will allow 2 gates on concourse D to serve both domestic and international flights. The project is scheduled to begin in late 2014 with an estimated completion date of fall 2016. With room to grow and an ace in the hole with Southwest, BWI is posed to stay in the top spot in terms of passengers for some time to come.

BWI Statistics
BWI Statistics

Ronald Reagan National Airport – National is the favorite airport of Senators, Congressmen and various government officials. The airport is a meager 4 miles away from downtown DC and can easily be accessed by car or the DC Metro. This makes the airport the top choice for vistors to the capital city, even though many times prices are cheaper at Dulles or BWI. What makes National great is also what holds it back. Due to its size, inablity to expand and location to many high security locations, flights to the airport have restrictions. Except for 40 slot exemptions, no destination can be further than 1,250 miles away. This limits the amount of non stop destinations and rules out service to many US cities completely. Also, Reagan only has domestic flights and thus limited to US airlines. There is an exception if the international destination has US Customs and Border Control pre-clearance but those are still few and far between still.
Dulles stats

Dulles International Airport – Ah Dulles, the vast expanse of Northern Virginia that features 48 international and 81 domestic non-stop routes. Despite hosting a superb assortment of international airlines Dulles has a bit of a problem. Despite it size it is failing to keep stride with BWI and Reagan. Passengers are unwilling to fly into Dulles despite many times saving on airfare. In 2015 more passengers will pass through Reagan than Dulles which is fourteen times the size. That is simply unacceptable for an airport the size and breath of Dulles. The shift to Reagan posses a serious financial and safety issue for the metro region. A recent study found that Dulles generated more than $1.2 billion in tax revenue and nearly $10 billion in labor income. More than 19,000 people work at Dulles, but nearly 250,000 jobs are tied to the airport, according to the study which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. In a perfect world Dulles would be booming and handle much more domestic traffic than it does now. While the concourses of Reagan are packed and neighbors complain about noisy low flying aircraft, Dulles lies waiting with space and facilities holstered waiting for the influx of domestic traffic.  

Dulles People Movers
Dulles People Movers

The Winner

In the eyes of the general public Reagan very often takes top billing. It has everything you need in a good airport. Great location to your final destination, easy to get to by car or public transport, enough variety of routes to keep the prices reasonable (said with a bit of smirk) and decent services. BWI has to thank it lucky stars for Southwest Airlines. Southwest makes BWI the mass trasit hub it has morphed into. On the whole BWI is fine but it has no bells and whistle but it does one thing great, move lots of people in and out effectivly. Now we come to Dulles, which is clearly hurting due to its lack of domestic traffic. Dulles in my opinion has great potential. It has the space, has the infrastructure and the labor force to accommodate much more passengers. Who wants to pay $80 for a cab ride into the city. If the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority can get its act together and run a metro line out to Dulles I guarantee the passengers will follow. So don’t count Dulles out, those prehistoric people moves aren’t going anywhere soon and if they do it will be very very slowly.

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