Washington’s big three handling 10 million more passengers than in 2008; Southwest presides over capital; Atlanta leading destination

The three main airports serving the US capital are forecast to greet over 73 million passengers in 2017, up 4.4% when compared to the year before. The leading hub is Baltimore/Washington, with it handling around 36% of all traffic, followed by Washington Reagan (33% of traffic) and Washington Dulles (32%). anna.aero predicts that Dulles will be the city’s fastest growing airport (traffic up 6.0%) in 2017, with it handling over 23 million passengers for the first time since 2011.

Washington is the US capital, and last year the city welcomed 73.63 million passengers (anna.aero estimates – see graph below) through its three largest airports – Washington Dulles (IAD), Washington Reagan (DCA) and Baltimore/Washington (BWI) – representing a growth rate of 4.4% when compared to 2016, and up 18% when analysed against a decade ago. This upcoming summer there are 2,273 flights shceduled to take-off or land at Washington’s three largest airports every day according to OAG data, meaning that an aircraft departs or arrives on average every 38 seconds if spread across a 24-hour time-span. Of those flights, 37% operate from DCA, 32% from IAD and 31% from BWI.

10 million more annual passengers in 10 years 

As stated, last year Washington’s three airports are anticipated to handle 73.63 million passengers. In 2008 they processed over 62.39 million, meaning that traffic has increased by more than 10 million over the past 10 years. During the last decade only two years have seen negative figures, with traffic across Washington’s three largest airports dropping 1.0% in 2009 and 0.2% in 2014. What should be noted is the continued decline of IAD’s share of total traffic over the period analysed, having previously peaked at 38% in 2008. Depending on last year’s final traffic result, its proportion of Washington’s total passengers may finally have halted and even improved slightly, according to anna.aero’s forecasts.

Source: Individual airports.

The fastest growing of the three airports last year was IAD, which in 2017 is expected to deliver a 6.0% upturn in traffic. That said, 2017 will be BWI’s first year with more than 26 million passengers – the third-straight record year for passenger traffic. Indeed, when the remainder of last year’s data is finalised, BWI will have set new monthly passenger records for 29 of the past 30 months, through December 2017. The only exception was September 2017, due to hurricanes that impacted traffic to Florida and the Caribbean. Following IAD was BWI with an expected 5.0% rise and DCA third, with Washington’s second largest airport anticipating a 2.2% increase in traffic. In 2016, DCA had 1.7 million more passengers than IAD. However, for the period of January-November 2017, that gap has closed to 993,488 passengers, not far off being halved. Overall Washington should host 3.07 million more passengers last year than it did in 2016.

SVID says “excellent” for Washington’s airports

When using anna.aero’s SVID calculator, all three airports deliver acceptable scores, based on 2016 monthly traffic, the last full year of passenger data. Leading the trio with a score of 1.02, which gives it an “excellent” rating, is DCA. This sees the US capital facility nestle between Lucknow (0.92) and Oakland (1.17). The second best result, but again an “excellent” tally of 1.19, was provided by BWI, a performance that positions it between Taipei Songshan (1.18) and Jaipur (1.21). By no means a poor result, but the lowest of the three Washington area airports was IAD with a “good” score of 2.56. This sees the United Airlines hub sit between the global airports of Guhawati (2.43) and Barcelona (4.71).

Source: Individual airports. Click to enlarge.

When looking at the 2015 seasonality score of the three airports, BWI appears to have taken a step forward, decreasing the ‘peakiness’ of its traffic profile from 2.11 in the space of 12 months. The same can be said of DCA which has improved its seasonality from the 1.63 score it posted in 2015. However over at IAD, its monthly traffic profile has become more spiky, as the airport’s 2015 result of 2.24 was marginally better than the score it delivered in 2016.

DCA best airport for top city connections 

Each week there are 2,573 departures between Washington’s three largest airports and the city’s top 12 destinations, with the number one airport from the capital being Atlanta, a destination which will see 372 weekly one-way flights in S18. 38% of weekly departures to the world’s busiest airport from Washington originate at DCA, the leading airport in Washington for departures to the city’s top destinations, commanding 41% of the total. It was the leading provider in weekly frequencies to seven of the top 12 – namely Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, New York LaGuardia, Detroit, Raleigh-Durham and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 23 July 2018.

11 of the top 12 destinations are operated to from all three Washington airports, with only LaGuardia not having services from BWI, making it the sole member of the top 12 served by just two of the three airports. Sitting just outside the top 12 were: Dallas/Fort Worth (147 weekly flights), Providence (143) and New York JFK (132).

Southwest controls capital over USB3 

LCC Southwest Airlines can rightly claim to be the most important airline serving Washington. Offering 28% more seats than second-placed United Airlines, 56% more than American Airlines and being nearly four times larger than Delta Air Lines in the market, Southwest’s capital capacity easily outstrips all of the USB3. Six of the top seven airlines are present at all three Washington airports, with the top four joined by JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines. Spirit Airlines’ fifth spot overall is only by virtue of the carrier’s #2 spot in terms of capacity at BWI, behind Southwest. Of Washington’s top 12 airlines four (highlighted in light green) are international carriers, with Air Canada (serves all three airports) taking the leading non-US carrier title away from Lufthansa, which only serves IAD, unlike British Airways which serves that airport along with BWI. 

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 23 July 2018.

In total in S18 there are 41 airlines serving Washington, with one new carrier this summer being Volaris Costa Rica (San Jose to IAD from 16 May). The total will rise to 42 carriers in the autumn, when the existing airlines will be joined by Cathay Pacific Airways, as the oneworld carrier intends to start a four times weekly A350-1000 service from Hong Kong on 15 September. Outside of the top 12, other leading airlines include: Icelandair (13th largest airline in relation to seats; 21% annual growth in capacity thanks to resumption of BWI services on 28 May); WOW air (19th; +57%); Aer Lingus (28th; +50%); and Royal Air Maroc (35th; +33%). However, the city’s fastest-growing airline of the last 12 months is Alaska Airlines, with it having grown its seat capacity to Washington by 84% since last summer, but this was due in part to Virgin America capacity being absorbed by its new parent.

In addition to the new services mentioned above, the three Washington airports expect to see further air service development growth this year, according to anna.aero’s New Route Database:

  • DCA – American to Tallahassee (15 February), Little Rock (3 April), Wilmington (5 May) and Montgomery (7 June);
  • BWI – Air Canada to Montreal (17 May); Spirit to Denver and Montego Bay (both 22 March);
  • IAD – Delta to Seattle-Tacoma (8 June); Frontier Airlines to O’Hare (8 April); and United to Wilmington (9 April) and Edinburgh (23 May).

Overall Washington’s top three airports should host over three million more passengers last year than it did in 2016, helped in part by new services, like Air India’s new route from Delhi to Washington Dulles. In 2016, Washington Reagan had 1.7 million more passengers than Dulles. However, for the period of January-November 2017, that gap has closed to just under one million passengers.


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