Lockheed discusses taking BWI over from state

March 12, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Lockheed Corp. wants to buy, lease or manage Baltimore-Washington International Airport, offering the state of Maryland an opportunity to reduce debt, save money and perhaps make a profit.

Representatives of Lockheed Air Terminal, a subsidiary of the giant aircraft manufacturer, met for lunch in the governor's mansion yesterday with Gov. William Donald Schaefer; House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent; and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

"It's the right way to go -- provided the state can work out a good deal," Mr. Mitchell said yesterday. He said he also could envision a public-private partnership or a private operation of the port of Baltimore and the state's light-rail system.

Although Lockheed approached Maryland officials about the deal, discussions are preliminary and the company has made no definitive proposal. A sale or management contract for BWI or any state-owned operation must first be competitively bid, Mr. Mitchell said.

If a deal were made in Maryland, said Mr. Mitchell and others familiar with the meeting, it could take one of several forms, including an outright sale, a lease or a management contract.

Mr. Schaefer plans to appoint a task force to evaluate proposals, structure deals and assess the value of various state programs and properties, including BWI.

Lockheed is currently completing work on an airport in Istanbul, Turkey. And it is handling the transition of Norton Air Force Base from a military to a commercial enterprise in San Bernardino, Calif., said Victor Gill, a Lockheed spokesman. Although airport management has been more prominent in Lockheed's foreign operations, the company also has been involved in airport construction. The company has been involved in managing, building or providing extensive services at 22 airports worldwide, Mr. Gill said.

Legislators who like the idea of private operation said the state would benefit in several ways. In an outright sale, it would get an immediate infusion of cash, and if the airport made a profit under an operating agreement, the state would share in that. Also, without pressure for expensive, state-financed airport expansion, the state would have more borrowing capacity for other capital projects.

Maryland transportation officials were more cautious.

"It's an interesting idea," said Stephen G. Zentz, deputy state transportation secretary. "The department's goal is to continue to provide the highest level of service we can to our customers, and by customers I mean both the airlines and patrons of the airport."

"The airport, as we all know, is extremely important to the economic vitality of the refion and the state must be able to maintain control of the airport's destiny, Mr. Zentz said. "If it can be demonstrated that the private sector can finance, manage and operate the airport more efficiently and cost-effectively, then that's an option we have to consider," he said.

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