State moves to add six gates at BWI

January 28, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

The boom in discount airline flights -- and the apparent intent of some carriers to add even more service -- has prompted the state to move forward with a $25 million expansion of Pier C at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Since last summer, Continental Airlines has tripled its daily flights at BWI to 24 and Southwest Airlines launched its first East Coast operation there with eight daily flights. Both of those carriers use Pier C in the central part of the terminal.

"The expansion is more than justified," said Theodore E. Mathison, administrator of the state-owned BWI. "We don't have sufficient space to put any more planes on the ground at Pier C."

He declined to say which carriers wanted to lease more gates or whether new airlines had expressed interest in coming to BWI.

"Carriers involved have asked us not to discuss their plans. Obviously, it's very competitive," he said.

However, earlier this year, Southwest indicated it would likely launch service from BWI to St. Louis in 1994.

To pay for the six extra gates and ramp improvements on Pier C, state officials are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to extend for six years the $3 ticket fee charged to each BWI passenger. That surcharge, imposed 14 months ago, had been set to expire in 2002.

But that financing plan has drawn opposition from USAir, the airport's largest carrier, which already is spearheading an aggressive lobbying campaign in Annapolis to defeat a previously proposed $130 million expansion of BWI's international terminal. The Arlington, Va.-based airline contends that project is excessive and unnecessary.

State transportation officials are asking the General Assembly to approve the sale of bonds to finance construction of both projects. The bonds would be repaid with the ticket surcharge revenues.

USAir objects to the Pier C expansion because the state plans to repay the bonds for Pier C only after it has paid off the $130 million international terminal, said Chuck Stipancic Jr., director of airport affairs and corporate real estate for USAir.

"As a result, the state would be spending more in interest than on the actual costs of the project," he said. "There would appear to be better ways to finance the cost."

But Mr. Mathison said yesterday that the repayment could be accelerated if BWI continues to experience a steady growth in passengers. During the last three months of 1993, traffic at the airport grew by 30 percent a month compared with the same period with a year earlier.

The Pier C expansion -- scheduled to begin later this year and end in 1995 -- would be the first gate expansion at BWI since an extension of Pier D, the terminal used by USAir. It was extended in 1984 and again in 1988 for Piedmont Airlines before the carrier merged with USAir.

That project was constructed with state bond money, which is being repaid by lease payments from USAir on the gates. At the time, the federal ticket surcharge, which is widely used to finance airport improvement projects nationwide, did not exist.

While USAir does not disagree with the need for the Pier C expansion, some airlines do believe it is unnecessary.

"We simply don't think they've shown the necessity for it," said Dan Doggendorf, public affairs manager for Delta Air Lines Inc. in Atlanta.

The airlines' objections may give Annapolis lawmakers something to mull over, with airport projects competing for bond money that could be use for other state transportation projects.

Nationwide, the struggling airline industry is scrutinizing all new airport costs.

Nearly every major carrier is supporting USAir's effort to defeat the international terminal at BWI.

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