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BWI says ‘guten tag’ to Condor Airlines

German air carrier Condor Airlines will begin flying twice-weekly, seasonal service from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Frankfurt in July, the airport announced Monday.

Condor, the third-largest German airline, will be the second European carrier in BWI’s William Donald Schaefer International Terminal, which opened in 1997 to great expectations that have gone unmet as Dulles International Airport has become the region’s overseas hub.

“That’s a good step in the right direction,” Virginia airline consultant George Hamlin said of the Condor deal. “When you go to Frankfurt, you get connections to much of Europe and good portions of Asia and Africa as well, and the Middle East.”

Frankfurt is home of the European Central Bank, and Frankfurt Airport is the third-busiest airport in Europe with 53 million annual passengers.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said Condor would “open the door to new global opportunities for our state and our region.”

BWI has one daily Europe flight now — the British Airways service to London. The state guarantees an 8 percent margin on the flight, capped at $5.5 million a year, to keep British Airways at BWI.

Condor’s 270-seat Boeing 767s will fly from BWI on Mondays and Thursdays from July to October. BWI will be the sixth U.S. destination for the airline, but its first in the mid-Atlantic region. Condor flies to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Seattle.

“This new route gets our passengers within easy reach of two attractive destinations on the eastern coast of the USA,” said Condor CEO Ralf Teckentrup. “Both Baltimore and the U.S. capital Washington, D.C., are directly linked to the airport.”

Indeed, Paul Wiedefeld, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, said the transit lines that converge at BWI were a strong selling point for the airport. MARC, light rail and Amtrak trains ferry customers to Baltimore, Washington and up and down the East Coast.

Hamlin said the rail options will be attractive to European visitors.

“In the area between say Philadelphia and points in Virginia, BWI has the alternative of Amtrak service, which is a lot cheaper than flying on those short routes,” he said.

Wiedefeld said discussions with Condor have stretched back more than five years, but grew more serious in the last year as BWI has posted strong growth even as the economy has faltered.

“Clearly how BWI has grown over the last two years was probably a big factor in it,” Wiedefeld said. “When you look at airports across the country they’re not growing nearly at the scale we are.”

BWI’s passenger traffic grew 5.3 percent from July 2010 to July 2011 while traffic nationwide grew only 1.6 percent.

Wiedefeld said he hopes Condor is able to expand its schedule at BWI beyond two days a week during the three-month vacation season. The airport will be promoting the flight with the Department of Business and Economic Development, Visit Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee.

“It’s real important we have businesses take advantage of this,” Wiedefeld said. “If we don’t support it, it’ll leave. Their biggest capital asset goes 500 mph and can land pretty much anywhere.”

Tom Noonan, the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said the Condor flight will boost tourism and complement the strong domestic operation of Southwest Airlines. The largest carrier at BWI is pondering overseas expansion of its own after acquiring AirTran Airways.

“If they [tourists] are flying to New York, hopefully they’ll come here. If they’re flying to Dulles or Philadelphia, hopefully they’ll come here,” said Noonan. “But if they’re flying directly to BWI, they’re definitely coming here.”