Making BWI truly international

July 19, 1993

Southwest Airlines' announced take-off from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in mid-September will help make the airport a bigger player on the domestic air travel scene in the mid-Atlantic region. But in the international arena, BWI continues to fly on one engine. It needs a lift.

State officials agree that something must be done. A handful of overseas carriers now cram into an aging building put up originally as a temporary structure. Customs and baggage-claim areas are incapable of further refigurations. There is no VIP lounge or other passenger amenities requested by the airlines. And if a major foreign air carrier wanted to start service from BWI, state officials wouldn't have the space to accommodate the new arrival right away.

The answer is contained in a $130 million expansion on the drawing boards. A beautiful glass-enclosed terminal, complete with an elaborate "Maryland Marketplace" food bazaar, is planned. There would be four or five new gates right away and at least double that number later. An extension of the Baltimore light-rail line would stop directly in the terminal.

These plans are crucial if BWI is to become a bigger player in the lucrative international travel business. And lucrative it is. The annual economic impact of a Baltimore-London flight is $250 million; a Baltimore-Tokyo route would have an annual economic impact of $700 million.

USAir's new partnership with British Airways also makes construction of a new international terminal vital. BWI could well serve as a pivotal hub for British Airways -- especially in drawing more passengers from the Washington area -- but only if the airport has first-class facilities. Again, the economic impact would be considerable.

Paying for this project should not be a problem. Federal matching dollars and an ongoing $3-a-head charge on BWI passengers ought to be sufficient to underwrite the transportation bonds. All that is needed is the go-ahead from General Assembly leaders, some of whom aren't excited about the project.

BWI is one of the state's best generators of economic development. That translates into jobs and tax revenue. But competition is fierce in the air travel industry. Without a new international terminal, BWI may find itself squeezed between the larger Philadelphia airport and the brand-new Pittsburgh airport to the north and the fast-expanding Dulles airport and the close-in National airport to the south. Settling for the status quo at BWI would be a mistake.

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