Passengers flying from Baltimore-Washington International Airport could be charged $3 per ticket as early as September to help pay for an expansion of the international wing of the terminal.
International traffic at BWI has been booming in the past two years, while domestic traffic has fallen slightly. Airport officials think BWI can sustain that growth in traffic only if the international wing is expanded.
But expansion of the terminal and a lengthening of the runway would cost well over $100 million. Because of questions about how such an expensive project would be financed, the state has not decided whether to go ahead with the expansion.
Airport officials have decided to press ahead with the $3-a-head charge that was authorized under federal legislation passed two years ago. In late January, the Maryland Aviation Administration notified 29 airlines at BWI that it planned to impose the $3 fee.
The fee would raise $13 million to $14 million annually. Under the federal rules, the funds raised by such a fee must be earmarked for specific projects.
Although BWI does not have any similar fee system now, it would not be alone in charging such fees. More than 50 other airports in the country have taken steps to impose similar charges, said Linda Greene, a BWI spokeswoman.
Before the state can begin imposing the fee, however, it needs the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration. Such approval would come by September at the earliest.
"We intend to start collecting it next fall," Theodore E. Mathison, head of the Maryland Aviation Administration, said yesterday.
Susan Young, a spokeswoman for USAir, which has more than 60 percent of the market at BWI, said that as more airports adopt such charges, a passenger could end up paying as much as $12 in user fees for each ticket on a trip involving connecting flights. That has her airline concerned that adding fees to ticket prices could discourage travel, especially in a weak economy, she said.
The fees would be paid by all passengers -- not just those on international flights -- when tickets are purchased and would be listed as a charge separate from the airline fare.
BWI officials see the fees as a good way of raising funds from passengers for improvements considered crucial for BWI's growth. In both 1990 and 1991, international traffic at BWI grew more than 77 percent. Domestic traffic declined by about 8 percent during the same period.
The expansion of the international wing would include adding six to eight gates, enlarging the customs and immigration areas and building a light-rail station under the terminal. A 9,400-foot runway would be lengthened by 1,100 feet to accommodate larger airplanes used on overseas flights.