BWI lands military travel deal Up to 161,000 more passengers possible annually

International gateway

Economic spinoff put at $50 million to $100 million a year

Maryland economy

September 13, 1997|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of the Air Force has named Baltimore-Washington International Airport as its northeastern international gateway for military personnel traveling to Europe, a move that could mean an additional 161,000 passengers a year and produce an annual economic spinoff of $50 million to $100 million.

With its charter military operations, the Air Force's Air Mobility Command will increase the airport's annual international operations, just as its $130 million international terminal is scheduled to open late this year. The command is responsible for operating international charter flights for all military personnel, their dependents and contractors.

"This is a significant boost not only to air operations at BWI, but to Maryland's economy," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said yesterday. The economic spinoff will produce jobs and added work in industries such as fueling and food service.

For the past 18 years, Philadelphia International Airport has served as the gateway. But the closure of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and loss of thousands of military jobs in the Northeast area, prompted Air Force officials to look for a facility closer to a larger concentration of military installations.

The charter planes -- typically large wide-bodied jets such as DC10s -- will operate out of the new international wing where BWI officials have been struggling to attract new carriers.

Earlier this year, the airport lost more international service as US Airways shifted all its Caribbean service to Philadelphia. Despite a continued growth in domestic passengers, international traffic last year dropped nearly 4 percent from 841,366 passengers to 809,937 in 1995.

"Notwithstanding what US Airways did, this is welcome news," said airport Administrator Theodore E. Mathison.

The military, he said, is expected to operate about 50 to 60 charters a month.

The Air Force was drawn to BWI by the same factors, such as low costs and lack of congestion, that have lured low-cost carriers there and helped bump BWI traffic from 8.8 million in 1993 to almost 14 million this year.

According to Air Force spokesman Major Wes Davis, the military also considered Washington-Dulles International Airport but determined that BWI offered "the best advantage for all costs and services."

Overall, he said, the move will save taxpayers $2 million, not only because of cheaper costs, such as landing fees and leasing of space at BWI, but because passengers coming from other parts of the country will be able to find cheaper commercial flights.

Because of the growth of discount carriers at BWI, notably Southwest, fares are much lower here than at many major airports, including Philadelphia.

In addition, military personnel who want to ship their automobiles overseas will be able to send them through the port of Baltimore, 10 miles from the airport. Air Force officials said that also will save money because the cars of military personnel leaving Philadelphia have been shipped through Newark, N.J., and New York, 60 miles away.

The U.S. military has a stream of people who are assigned or reassigned to posts or bases in Europe as well as those being transferred back to the states. For years, the military has chartered jets to operate out of a central gateway rather than operate their own system.

For several months, a Boeing 757 test charter flight has been operating weekly between Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and BWI. Mathison said the military gateway would result in 15 additional jobs at the airport and 25 jobs in the private sector as a result of additional fueling and servicing needs.

A recent economic impact study estimated that a daily trans-Atlantic commercial flight generates $250 million a year on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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