The 10.9 million passengers who used the airport in the first six months of 2011 were the most ever. The record start to the summer also capped off the busiest 12-month period in the airport’s history, with 22.5 million passengers from July 2010 to June 2011, a 5.5 percent year-over-year increase.
But those rosy passenger numbers come as some airport operations are threatened by a partial Federal Aviation Administration shutdown.
Brought about by a stalemate in Congress, the shutdown has put the airport’s new ground radar system on ice and throws into doubt projects planned for next year if the impasse lasts until lawmakers return in September, as expected.
“It’s just totally ridiculous that we’re at this spot,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, the airport’s executive director. “It’s going to cost real jobs, for real people, and that rolls down to airlines and the customers. We’re not doing this just for the heck of it. We’re doing it so airlines can grow and customers can get better service.”
Weidefeld said it is around this time of the year the airport files its paperwork with the FAA for next summer’s construction projects. For BWI, the list includes repaving sections of both main runways and, ironically enough, a congressionally mandated expansion of the clear areas around the runways.
“A lot of that hinges on an environmental document that has to be reviewed by the FAA. And I’ve just lost seven weeks,” he said. “Plus when they do come back, it’s not like everybody else has been sitting on their hands. They’ve all got a stack of stuff to give to them.”
Sen. Ben Cardin called the FAA shutdown “unacceptable” in a statement Wednesday.
“This is something that cannot wait until September to be resolved,” he said, urging Congress to return from its recess to resolve the situation.
Wiedefeld said he does not expect the shutdown to knock the airport of its pace to break the yearly passenger record of 21.9 million set in 2010.
“The trend is very good, obviously, setting records month in and month out,” Wiedefeld said. “Assuming everything stays consistent, we will have a very good year.”
The airport’s traffic has grown for 24 of the last 25 months — the lone exception was February 2010, when the state was socked by back-to-back blizzards — and has set records in 13 of the past 14 months.
Much of the momentum has come from Southwest Airlines Co. The low-fare carrier flew 1.2 million passengers through BWI in June, a 6.7 percent increase over last year. The airline averaged 195 daily departures in June, the most ever.
Southwest will be responsible for 70 percent of BWI’s passenger traffic when its takeover of AirTran Airways is complete.
Delta Air Lines, US Airways American Airlines and British Airways also posted strong growth in June, according to BWI.
The airport is growing inside as well. A new lounge, jewelry store, juice stand and a pair of French spas have opened in the terminals in recent month. A new bar run by Obrycki’s Restaurants is under construction.