BWI gets OK to charge $3 more per ticket Money to help airport pay for new terminal

July 28, 1992|By Peter Jensen and Frank D. Roylance | Peter Jensen and Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writers

Every passenger who flies out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, starting Oct. 1, will have to hand the state an extra $3 a ticket to help pay for a new international terminal and other airport improvements.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the $3 "passenger facilities charge" for BWI yesterday. It will be added to tickets on all outbound flights.

The fee is expected to raise $141.9 million over the next 10 years. But before the money can be spent, the state will need further FAA approvals for assessments of how the improvements will affect the environment, the airspace and the airport.

The FAA's decision makes BWI the 29th airport in the nation, and the ninth in the East, authorized to collect the fee. Thirty-two airports have similar applications pending.

Congress approved the fee two years ago to help airports pay for capital improvements. The airlines oppose the concept.

Neither of BWI's closest competitors, Dulles International Airport HTC and National Airport, both in Virginia, charges such a fee. State officials say the fee is small relative to the cost of a plane ticket, and they do not expect it to make BWI any less competitive.

The FAA's action yesterday authorized BWI to collect $113 million from the fee to pay for 80 percent of the cost of the new international wing. To be known as Concourse F, the proposed addition would be built as a new pier on BWI's main terminal building.

Concourse F is considered vital to the future of the airport, which has

seen a reduction in local traffic since 1989 but has experienced a steady growth in international service.

Just last week, the announcement that British Airways had purchased nearly half of USAir raised speculation that the alliance could mean a boost for international flights at BWI, where USAir operates a regional hub.

Larry Pickett, a spokesman for USAir, said yesterday that his airline will be getting "more and more involved with the international side of the business." But Mr. Pickett said he was too unfamiliar with USAir's Baltimore operations to comment on the new $3 fee to help pay for a new international pier at BWI.

"Generally, our concern has been that [a passenger facilities charge] adds additional costs to a ticket when passengers are very cost-conscious," he said. Airlines also question whether some of the projects that airports hope to finance with the fees are of genuine value to the traveling public.

BWI currently operates three gates for foreign flights, and they are frequently overcrowded in the late afternoon or early evening. Concourse F would include four to six gates and could be expanded to nine.

In addition, the terminal would provide greater space for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The current service area can process only 500 passengers per hour. The new area could handle 1,400, officials said.

"We already find that our gates are tied up and we have to fall back on mobile lounges," state Aviation Administrator Theodore E. Mathison said earlier this month. "Most people are totally turned off by those, particularly after sitting through six hours on a plane from Europe."

BWI received permission to collect $2 million less than it had requested. Instead of $3.7 million for an expansion of the airport's fire-rescue station, the FAA approved only $1.7 million.

The FAA approved $17.3 million in anticipation of financing costs, $6.1 million for resurfacing of the main roadway leading to the terminal and $3.6 million to help pay for a $14.5 million extension of a runway.

The proposed expansion of the runway, known as "10/28," would add 1,050 feet to the existing 9,500-foot runway. That is considered a critical improvement for air carriers with non-stop flights to the Pacific Rim, for example.

BWI is now at a competitive disadvantage for such flights because heavily fuel-laden, long-haul aircraft must sometimes shed either cargo or passengers to take off, Mr. Mathison said. The longer runway is also expected to enhance safety, particularly for emergency landing situations.

Last year, 9,885,615 passengers were served by BWI, 3.2 percent fewer than in 1990. Of that total, 743,337 passengers traveled to or from BWI on international flights, an increase of 35.2 percent from the year before.

BWI currently claims about one-third of the market for international passenger flights among metropolitan Washington airports. Dulles captured the remainder. There are 13 carriers that offer international flights from BWI.

Officials hope to break ground on the terminal by next spring with a partial opening of the facility by mid-1994 and completion by mid- to late-1995. Among other things, the terminal is expected to house BWI's station along the Central Light Rail Line when the electric trolley system is extended to the airport.

Airline passengers may have already noticed passenger facilities charges added onto the cost of tickets from other airports on top of the 10 percent tax on tickets that goes to the FAA.

Three-dollar-per-ticket fees also were approved last week for all flights from the New York area's Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, starting in October.

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