BWI: investing in the future

November 10, 1993

If state transportation officials have their way, Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be transformed over the next few years into a regional gateway that outshines its competitors. The goal is to establish BWI as the preeminent airport for a pleasurable and convenient travel experience.

Three recent developments highlight the state's plans. First, officials are convinced BWI needs to become more competitive in its marketing and its quest for new airlines. Yet another study group recommended last week that BWI be placed under the control of a private-sector commission similar to the one that operates the Port of Baltimore. This approach has paid off handsomely at the port, which is enjoying improved labor relations, a surge of new business and a bottom-line profit.

Second, the state plans to proceed with a six-year, $400 million capital improvement plan that includes a $130 million international terminal. This move is essential for BWI's long-term success. The airport has got to stress the "I" portion of its name and take advantage of today's increasingly global marketplace.

To achieve these capital plans, BWI must remain a state-funded agency rather than convert to an authority-style airport as many other air terminals have done. That's because BWI, while profitable, doesn't generate enough net income to pay for massive capital undertakings. BWI can have the best of both worlds, though, if it remains a state agency for funding purposes but with a private-sector commission injecting an entrepreneurial spirit into airport operations.

More immediately, BWI is about to undergo a $16 million facelift that could make the existing terminal attractive and consumer-friendly. A unique airfield observation lounge, interior gardens, carpeting and a large shopping court with a distinctive Chesapeake flavor will begin to take shape early next year.

This should add to BWI's new-found popularity, thanks to the arrival of Southwest Airlines on Sept. 15. The no-frills air transport company already has forced other airlines to cut fares and increase flights. The price of a BWI-to-Cleveland ticket has plunged from $349 to $49 (actually $19 with Southwest's introductory price). Not surprisingly, traffic at BWI jumped by 100,000 in September and even more in October.

As the region's recession starts to recede, BWI could be in an enviable position. It is already the most convenient and accessible airport around; changes in the works will make it even more so. With aggressive management and an eye on customer service, BWI could well become the airport of choice for the discerning mid-Atlantic air traveler.

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