Southwest seeking BWI's 6 new gates

March 01, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Southwest Airlines plans to lease the proposed six new gates at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and triple its daily departures by next year.

In a letter of agreement with the state, the Dallas-based airline said it will operate at least 25 flights a day once it takes over the new gates. Because its planes spend only 15 minutes on the ground, the airline could operate more, however.

"We certainly believe the number will far exceed that," said Nick Schaus, deputy administrator at BWI. Major airlines with slow turnaround times typically operate four flights a day from one gate, he said.

Yesterday, a Southwest spokesman said that no decisions have been made about future flights. But the airline is not expected to jump into the battle between USAir and Continental Lite from BWI to numerous East Coast cities.

Typically, Southwest flies flights under 500 miles from east to west.

State transportation officials are asking the General Assembly to approve the sale of $25 million in bonds to finance the six gates and ramp improvements on Pier C. Construction is to start this spring and be complete by July 1995.

Currently, Southwest leases two gates on Pier C in the central part of the terminal and operates eight flights a day to Cleveland and Chicago. It is expected to add a St. Louis flight sometime this year.

Nationwide, Southwest offers more than 1,500 daily flights from 37 cities. Phoenix offers the largest number of Southwest departures with 157. St. Louis has 74, and Louisville, Ky., offers 11 daily departures.

In September, Southwest launched its first East Coast operation at BWI, triggering a flurry of fare-cutting by other airlines. Since then, BWI has become a hotbed of competition, with airlines cutting fares up to 70 percent and adding new flights.

Continental Airlines, for instance, has tripled its daily flights at BWI to 24. In addition, USAir, which had been cutting daily flights at BWI for the past two years, has now added more than two dozen new jet flights.

Once the Pier C expansion is complete, Continental will lease the two gates Southwest is currently using, bringing its total number of BWI gates to four.

To repay the bonds sought 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. Those revenues would then be used to repay the bonds which the state legislature is being asked to approve this year.

The financing plan has drawn opposition from USAir, the airport's largest carrier, which is facing intense competition from discount airlines. With Southwest's lease commitment, little opposition is expected in the General Assembly to the Pier C expansion plans.

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