BWI gets a new executive director

Appointee: As the new boss at BWI, David L. Blackshear has a hard act to follow.

August 05, 1999|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

David L. Blackshear was named the new executive director of Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday, and he thinks he just might be a little crazy.

"You've got to be crazy to run an airport," said Blackshear, reclining yesterday inside the headquarters of the Maryland Department of Transportation, his new employer.

"You have to practice politics, you have to practice law, you have to practice environmental science -- rational people wouldn't do this."

He paused a second.

"I say all that in jest, of course," he said. "This was a really easy decision for me."

Blackshear, who comes to BWI after seven years as the head of Richmond International Airport in Virginia, takes control Monday of an airport that has grown by bounds and become the envy of midsize airports around the country. Its fares are low; its business is growing; and it turned a $33 million profit last year.

His appointment, announced by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, ended a six-month, nationwide search that included a dozen "strong" candidates. Said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari: "It's fair to say there was a lot of interest in this job."

Blackshear, 56, replaces Theodore E. Mathison, the 14-year "mayor" of BWI who retired July 1. As head of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates BWI, Blackshear will also oversee Martin State Airport.

Among his biggest challenges will be continuing the pace of growth reached during Mathison's tenure, when traffic more than doubled to 15 million passengers a year.

"There are a lot of ingredients that would indicate that this airport has great potential, and it's already lived up to much of that," said Blackshear. "The goal is to keep it moving."

Blackshear began his aviation career as an Air Force pilot, including missions as an aircraft commander in Vietnam. He flew as a corporate pilot in 1971 and 1972, then joined the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

BWI will be the third airport of which Blackshear has been executive director. He ran New Orleans International Airport in the 1980s, helping to rebuild its infrastructure before being recruited for the Richmond job, an offer that he turned down three times before succumbing to a better opportunity and better pay.

In Virginia, he saw passenger traffic grow 50 percent and he oversaw a $650 million development program. Blackshear resigned as airport director in Richmond last month, confident that he would get one of nine director's positions vacant across the country.

"Our airport has vastly improved over the time since he came here, and he made tremendous contributions," said David Kaechele, a member of the Capital Region Airport Commission, which operates the Richmond airport. "He's a strong manager with a lot of good ideas."

He accepted the $150,000-a-year BWI position about a week ago, considering it "an opportunity that won't come along too many times in your career."

Unlike most other airports, BWI is owned by the state government and enjoys cooperation from the governor and other people responsible for building roads and spending public money, Blackshear said.

Attracting more air cargo will become a priority in Maryland, Blackshear said. Cargo moved through BWI increased almost 19 percent last year, but the airport still ranks about 50th in the nation for moving goods -- and he thinks it should be higher.

Air cargo not only increases airport revenue, it can also attract more passenger service, Blackshear said. Airlines that do not think they can fly enough passengers to be profitable on certain routes might be persuaded that cargo carried in the plane's belly can make up the difference.

Blackshear said he hopes air cargo can help attract more international flights -- one of BWI's shortcomings, particularly since the opening of the William Donald Schaefer International Terminal two years ago.

"It's a matter of marketing," Blackshear said. "Baltimore's in the right place on the East Coast; the roads come together at the right place; and the competition is pretty strenuous. We need to convince the airlines that all of that can help their bottom line."

Blackshear was introduced to the BWI staff yesterday, and he and his wife will be moving to Maryland soon.

"Aviation is a very dynamic and very interesting business, and the idea that you can wave some magic wand and find some magic answers is just foolishness," he said.

"No one can even say for sure what the business will be like when they wake up tomorrow.

"But I think the tools are in place here. Before, I had to build the airports almost from scratch with no staff and no money. Here, Maryland already has one of the best transportation systems in the country."

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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