Baltimore-Washington International Airport is going to get a big new toy, a $33 million advanced radar addition that should ease air-traffic jams, reduce delays and increase the potential for domestic and international air flights. It won't arrive till later in the decade, but when it does the advanced radar setup promises to enhance the airport's capacity, cost-effectiveness and its safety.
The Federal Aviation Administration is installing the new radar at BWI and four other airports. The radar takes more rapid snapshots of plane locations and will pick up deviations in flight paths more quickly and alert air controllers.
This radar enhancement will enable BWI to build a second, parallel runway of up to 11,000 feet in length -- big enough to handle long-range international carriers. Equally important, the new radar equipment will let BWI schedule simultaneous landings on the two runways. Neither the longer runway nor the two-at-a-time landings are now possible under existing FAA criteria.
BWI's traffic -- an expected 310,000 takeoffs and landings this coming fiscal year -- doesn't require a second runway right now. Two years ago, its commuter runway was widened and lengthened to remove turbo-propeller planes from the main stream of jet-airliner traffic at the airport. This has greatly reduced time-consuming backups and improved safety.
But already there is a need for longer runways. The existing east-west runway, now 9,500 feet long, is insufficient to accommodate long-haul flights. On hot summer days, overseas airliners have to leave either freight, passengers or fuel behind in order to achieve lift-off. BWI hopes to break ground next year on a 1,000-foot extension.
By the middle of the decade, though, anticipated gains in air traffic will make a parallel runway imperative. The improved radar puts BWI in excellent position to make the runway long enough to appeal to overseas carriers. The ability to schedule simultaneous landings means greater efficiencies for both the airlines and the airport.
BWI Airport is a prime economic development engine for Maryland. It churns out a $20 million operating profit each year. Plans for a new international terminal could mean even more economic activity from overseas, and far greater hub activity for domestic flights. The new, improved radar soon to be installed at BWI -- and built at Allied-Signal's Towson plant -- could make much of this future growth possible.