El Al Israel Airlines is considering flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a move that could lead to direct flights from Baltimore to Tel Aviv.
Talks are continuing and details have not been worked out with state transportation officials, but "a final decision will be made in a week or two," a spokeswoman for the airline, Sheryl Stein, said.
News that El Al airlines is close to a decision pleased state officials, who for the past two years have been working to boost the international stature of BWI.
"This is the growth market for the airport," said O. James Lighthizer, state secretary of transportation. "With each addition of an international carrier, the stature grows and business improves."
Alitalia Airlines already has permission to fly non-stop from BWI to Rome, but is waiting to see if United Airlines offers the same service from Dulles International Airport before committing to Baltimore, according to Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator of marketing and development for the Maryland Aviation Administration.
Cayman Airways has said it will start service to the Grand Cayman Islands in May, and USAir is awaiting government approval to take over a route now operated by Trans World Airlines to fly daily to London.
The airport currently is serviced by 10 international carriers, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which plans to increase its weekly flights to Amsterdam to five from four this winter, and Icelandair, which flys six weekly flights to Reykjavik, Iceland.
The issue of international travel has become an increasingly thorny one for BWI, which has only three international terminals. Its customs stations are inadequate for the 77 percent increase in passengers arriving from abroad and other countries in North America and South America.
Plans are under way to lengthen the main runway to accommodate 747s flying in from the Middle East or Pacific Rim nations, and officials hope to build a new international pier.
Last year, Japan Air chose Virginia's Dulles over Maryland because BWI's longest runway is too short for fully loaded 747s on some international flights.
"If we don't get the expansion, our international flights will be limited to Europe," Mr. Hierholzer said. "El Al is not going to fly non-stop to Tel Aviv without the runway expansion."
Extending the runway 1,100 feet would cost $14 million. An environmental assessment is under way and officials hope to have a public hearing this spring. Pier F, with six to eight new passenger gates and a light-rail station underneath, could cost $140 million.
The Schaefer administration hopes to pay for the expansion, in part, with funds from an increase in the gas tax, which is being debated by the General Assembly, and a $3 customer fee, which requires FAA approval before implementing.