Southwest to increase BWI flights Legislature is asked to vote $73 million for piers with more gates

Up to 150 daily flights

Lease of 15 to 25 years by carrier expected to cover renovation cost

Air travel

March 04, 1998|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

In a move that would significantly boost Southwest Airlines' presence at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Maryland legislature is being asked to approve a $73 million expansion that ultimately could mean 150 flights or more a day here for the Dallas-based carrier.

Plans call for a two-story extension that would add 10 gates to Pier B, making the project the second largest addition ever at the state-owned airport. The largest is the $130 million international terminal that opened in December.

Construction could begin this fall, with completion expected within 18 months.

"Southwest obviously will continue growing here over the next couple of years," David L. Winstead, Maryland's secretary of transportation, said yesterday.

Southwest officials said yesterday that they intend to sign a long-term lease -- between 15 years and 25 years -- which would cover construction and debt service costs for the expansion.

"Our intention is to utilize these gates and to utilize them heavily," said Bob Montgomery, director of properties for the airline. "BWI is extremely important to us in our expansion plans."

The proposed expansion -- which has been requested by the state Department of Transportation -- is expected to encounter little, if any opposition, from the General Assembly since it ultimately would be paid for by the airline, much the same way US Airways has paid for the state-financed extensions of Pier D.

The state Board of Public Works will be asked by Maryland Aviation Administration officials today to amend a design

contract that now calls for a far more modest renovation of Pier B. The addition of 10 gates, as well as passenger areas and other services, would give Southwest a total of 16 gates on Pier B. The airline typically operates 10 flights a day per gate at its busiest airports.

Southwest, currently the second largest airline at BWI, operates six gates on Pier C. Those would be turned over to other airlines, such as Delta and Frontier, once the renovation is completed.

The plans under consideration also call for renovations on Pier A, which is used by United Airlines. In the past year, United has added a number of flights at BWI, including new service to the West Coast.

Piers A and B were renovated 18 years ago. The state had been moving forth with more modest expansion plans when Southwest told airport officials that it needed more room for its East Coast expansion.

The expansion is the strongest indication yet that the carrier intends to compete aggressively with US Airways' discount division, MetroJet, which is to begin operating out of BWI June 1.

Southwest had already announced plans to establish a base here for 200 pilots. The facility would be the airline's sixth, with others in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Oakland, Calif., and Chicago -- all cities offering between 100 and 170 flights a day by Southwest.

For Baltimore-area passengers -- and those coming from as far away as Philadelphia -- Southwest's expansion will mean more bargains even as fares are rising at many other airports.

Since its arrival at BWI in September 1993, Southwest has more than quadrupled its number of flights to 53 a day, with service to more than a dozen cities.

Its discount fares have forced down ticket prices at BWI and helped lure thousands to BWI, at one point making it the fastest growing airport in the nation. In the past four years, BWI's traffic has soared from 8 million a year to 14.1 million, with Southwest handling 2 million passengers.

"We are very encouraged by Southwest's decision to expand its facilities at BWI," Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said yesterday.

"Southwest has been the basis for much of BWI's popularity and success in recent years and we look forward to the company's expansion in the future," Feldmann said.

More than a year ago, Southwest told BWI that it needed more gates. Currently, however, nearly all of the airport's gates are being used. The airline also unsuccessfully sought additional gates from US Airways on Pier D.

US Airways has cut numerous flights at BWI and does not use at least six gates on Pier D. But the airline plans to use all its space as it launches MetroJet.

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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