BWI flying high in the summertime

Popular airport: Rapid growth in passengers, cargo spurs expansion and talks with overseas airlines.

July 21, 1999

THESE are good times at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Cargo business is booming. The air facility in Linthicum should see 15 million passengers pass through its gates this year. It's the East Coast crew center for one of the nation's fastest growing airlines.

This has been a summer of successes. Southwest Airlines opened a crew base that could bring 1,000 jobs and $30 million in tax revenues. Then the airline announced its latest expansion -- service to Hartford, Conn., part of Southwest's aggressive push into Northeast markets from BWI.

Next month, Southwest begins direct service to Phoenix and Las Vegas as it adds longer routes to its 86 daily flights from BWI. Can the West Coast be far behind?

That would be welcomed by BWI officials, who are seeking more transcontinental flights. There is also a big hole in the airport's overseas service, despite construction of a largely empty international terminal. Talks with Alitalia and Aer Lingus airlines, among others, continue.

Meanwhile, construction fills the airport complex. There's an enlarged pier so Southwest can eventually double its flights. US Airways is getting a renovation of its pier.

The biggest project is a novel private-public partnership to build 350,000 square feet of cargo space to accommodate a 20 percent gain in freight in the past year.

Overall, $136 million worth of projects are in progress. The airport continues to enhance its reputation as the home of discount flights. It has far less gridlock and overcrowding than other major East Coast airfields.

Roadway improvements are now being discussed to add curb space for passengers being dropped off and to add more pedestrian bridges from the garage to the terminal.

BWI is undertaking these projects without a permanent director because its longtime chief, Theodore E. Mathison, retired this month after 21 years. The airport's continuing smooth operation is a tribute to the skilled team Mr. Mathison assembled, led by longtime deputy Nicholas J. Schaus.

The next director will step into an enviable situation: All he or she must do is keep BWI's momentum going.

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