Md. tries to get more companies to back BWI Governor to meet with business leaders today

September 24, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer today will urge business leaders to use Baltimore-Washington International Airport more often and to help lure more airline service there by promising to fill their seats.

In a breakfast meeting at BWI, the governor and other state officials will underscore the state's efforts to get the business community to promote the nation's only state-owned airport.

"We haven't done our job getting the business community involved," said Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer. "That means businesses using the airport, promoting the airport, calling on airlines and supporting us at the legislature."

In recent years, Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia has outpaced BWI in both international and domestic traffic growth. Recently KLM left BWI to relocate at Dulles, a more lucrative business market, the airline said.

"The Dulles people have done a marvelous job over the past 20 years in promoting their airport," Mr. Lighthizer said. "The business community puts some staggering amount of money into Dulles."

BWI's recent coup in luring Southwest Airlines has brought the airport national prominence as fare wars have erupted here. Southwest is expected to substantially increase domestic passengers, but Dulles will likely retain its international advantage.

State officials complain that even Baltimore-area businesses frequently use Dulles rather than BWI. But businesses say the international flights they need simply aren't here.

"I don't think any business purposely slights BWI," said Robert W. Ellenby, president of Safe Harbor Travel Inc., a Baltimore firm specializing in international travel.

"The schedule, the flights and the airlines are not here," he said.

One example: When Black & Decker Corp. officials travel to London, they typically fly out of Dulles, not BWI. So far this year, the Baltimore-based company tool and appliance manufacturer has flown nearly 250 times from Dulles.

But Black & Decker's logic is clear -- the company's international headquarters is located in Slough, just adjacent to London's primary airport, Heathrow. BWI's only daily service to London flies into Gatwick, nearly 20 miles away.

"We really don't want to drive to Dulles," says Peter Buchheit, director of travel and meeting services for Black & Decker. "As long as BWI has the flights that support our business goals and business needs, we would never use any other airport."

More than 98 percent of the company's domestic travel -- and most of the North American international travel -- originates at BWI, he said.

The effort to lure international passengers -- and airlines -- has become a Catch-22 situation, complicated by the need to connect on flights to Europe and Asia. Most of BWI's direct international service goes to North and South America and the Caribbean.

Passengers flock to Dulles for non-stop flights to Asia, rather than connect through New York or Chicago, for instance.

"It's not that we have anything against BWI; we just don't want to use JFK," said Mary Marks, travel management director at McCormick and Co. Inc.

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