Design contract for BWI expansion OK'd International terminal project inches forward

July 01, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- The on-again-off-again plans to expand the international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport inched forward yesterday as state officials approved a $6.2 million contract for final design of the project.

In February, state transportation officials, citing the anticipated loss of a major European carrier at BWI and the slump in the airline industry, had postponed the long-awaited expansion.

But yesterday they said that an upswing in BWI passengers this year and the recent alliance between British Airways and USAir, the dominant carrier at BWI, had prompted the decision to move ahead with the $130 million project.

"We anticipate moving as fast as we can on construction," State Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer told the state Board of Public Works, which awarded the design contract to STV/William Nicholas Bodouva Associates of Baltimore.

The expansion would be paid for through a $3-a-head passenger facilities charge that took effect at BWI last fall. But the General Assembly must approve start-up construction money.

"The issue is not whether it will be built, but when," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's County Democrat who is head of the House subcommittee that deals with the budget for the airport, which competes for financing with other state transportation projects.

State officials hope to begin construction in February, with the first phase to be completed by June 1995.

The initial phase would add three or four gates to the existing three-gate pier. Ultimately, the terminal could be expanded to 15 gates. The project also includes improvements that would increase, from 400 to 900, the number of passengers that could be handled hourly through customs.

British Airways officials recently expressed their concern that the terminal be able to process international passengers quickly, according to BWI Administrator Theodore E. Mathison.

"They [British Airways] said it was significant that the international clearance facilities were not an impediment," said Mr. Mathison, who joined Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mr. Lighthizer and other state officials in meeting with British Airways executives.

USAir offers daily nonstop service to London. That route is scheduled to be taken over by British Airways in September. Because BWI is a hub for USAir, transportation officials hope that the British carrier will step up its flights here.

State transportation officials have long argued that BWI's current international terminal, known as Pier E, is inadequate to handle existing traffic or attract new carriers. Between 1989 and 1991, international traffic increased significantly while the number of domestic passengers remained flat. But last year, international passenger traffic, which is primarily within North and South America, fell by 45,000 passengers, or 6 percent.

But Mr. Maloney said legislators still want some assurance that new international carriers will be attracted to BWI if the terminal is expanded. "The one thing we want to avoid is having a white elephant on our hands," he said.

He expressed concern about the loss of KLM, which shifted its service in May from BWI to Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. The Dutch airline said passenger demand was greater at Dulles.

"But if we have a realistic possibility of establishing a long-term relationship with British Airways, that could make a real difference," Mr. Maloney said.

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