Reagan National, Dulles won’t fully recover from pandemic passenger drop until 2024

A man wearing a mask sits at a baggage claim at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. It will be years before the airport recovers from a drop in passengers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on air travel demand will bring 10 straight years of passenger growth at Reagan National and Dulles International Airport combined to a screeching halt this year, and it will be years before passenger levels return to pre-pandemic levels.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s proposed 2021 budget expects Dulles and Reagan National to end 2020 with a combined total of 14.8 million passengers, compared to 48.9 million in 2019.

For 2021, MWAA forecasts total passengers at both airports to be 26.9 million, still down nearly 45% from 2019 levels.

Total passengers for the two airports are forecast to climb to 37.6 million in 2022, and 43.7 million in 2023, still 10% below 2019 levels three years from now.

Those figures include total enplanements, or arriving passengers, and assume an equal number of deplanements, or departing passengers.

Prior to the pandemic, both D.C.-area airports were in growth mode. Passengers at Reagan National increased 2% last year, almost double the forecast. Passengers at Dulles increased 2.9% in 2019, compared to a 2.1% forecast.

For the second year in a row, the total number of passengers flying through Dulles surpassed Reagan National Airport’s total in 2019. There were 24.7 million passengers for Dulles versus 23.9 million for Reagan National.

More passengers also meant more spending at the airports themselves as well, with non-airline revenue up 3% last year.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

However, non-airline revenue is down significantly this year, specifically a 64.4% drop in food and beverage sales. Even so, about 40% of restaurants, as well as newsstands and other concessions at Dulles and Reagan National are now open.

The Airports Authority, which received $229.1 million in CARES Act funding earlier this year, made several budget cuts to compensate for the significant drop in business, including a 10% cut in budgeted expenses and hiring limits.

The MWAA 2020 forecast estimates $460.6 million in total operating revenue, not counting CARES Act funding, compared to $766.2 million in total operating revenue in 2019.

For 2021, the budget forecasts total operating revenue, excluding CARES Act funding, of $542.1 million.

Baltimore-Washington International may recover faster than Dulles and Reagan National, and so far this year, it has. BWI Marshall accounts for slightly more than half of all passengers at all three airports this year. The Maryland airport is less dependent on business travelers and international flights.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up