Ever so slowly, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is being nudged in the right direction to get state government's red tape removed from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The airport is at a crossroads in its evolution. Now is the time to remove the state from operating BWI and instill private-sector incentives at the airport.
BWI is under intense pressure to improve its performance. Both Dulles and National airports are embarking on massive, expensive facelifts to make them more appealing to air travelers and airlines. But BWI is stuck in indecision. A plan to build a $120 million international terminal was put on hold last spring by the Schaefer administration. Plans to turn at least the marketing and management arms of BWI over to a private company such as Lockheed Corp. have been stymied.
Yet while BWI remains in a holding pattern, the airline industry isn't standing still. KLM pulled out of BWI in favor of Dulles; USAir reduced substantially its flights through BWI. Further reductions by other airlines could mean an additional crimp.
Now a second panel has suggested that changes be made in the operation of BWI. The eight-member committee of business leaders wants BWI run by an independent authority, much like most airports in this country. Freed of government's stranglehold, the new BWI could act more aggressively to attract new airlines and would be better positioned to respond rapidly as market conditions change.
The airport expects to generate $53 million this coming fiscal year, with operating costs of $40 million. That is sufficient profit margin to underwrite extensive physical improvements at BWI through tax-exempt bonds. It also gives an airport authority enough fiscal flexibility to promote BWI more effectively as the most convenient long-haul airport in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Mr. Schaefer has dragged his feet on BWI's problems. Despite legislative urging, he has refused to champion privatization efforts. Creating a semi-private airport authority appears to be an acceptable compromise. BWI is too important as an economic stimulator to let it languish.
The governor and legislative leaders should endorse the committee's recommendations and unite behind efforts to get BWI moving again by creating an independent operating authority.