The future of BWI Marshall Airport can be seen in the new sweeping terminal roofline that hints of something big, the panorama of glass that gives street-side passengers a view of arriving jets and a cavernous security checkpoint with nine stations and the latest detection equipment.
The first phase of a $100 million upgrade opened before dawn Tuesday and served its first bleary-eyed customers on their way to Chicago. The new Concourse C replaces a dark, funnel-like portal in the oldest part of the building, when it was known as Friendship Airport.
The new concourse connects directly to Concourses A and B, the home of Southwest and its subsidiary AirTran, eliminating the need for transferring passengers to go through security a second time. The checkpoint — BWI's largest — enters where the Delta ticket counter used to be and deposits screened passengers onto a wide, curved walkway with views of the runways.
As many as 300 workers swarmed over the construction site in the final hours before old Concourse C closed and the new one opened, moving 2-ton magnetic imaging machines into place, vacuuming carpets and washing floors and changing signs.
The moving walkway doesn't yet, and clusters of men in hard hats and safety vests signal a work in progress.
"We pushed really hard," said BWI executive director Paul Wiedefeld during an early morning walk-through. "Right now, we have a lot of white space and we're very much under construction. It's a rolling open, and as we finish something, we'll open and move on."
The construction timetable was accelerated to give airlines time to ramp up for the busy summer season.
Christopher Donahue, senior project architect at URS Corp., said coordinating all the overnight movement after the last flight from the old Concourse C on Monday took a logistics team consisting of contractors, the Maryland Airport Administration and the Transportation Security Administration "so that when it opened up, it looked like it had been here for days."
It fooled Jacqueline Tseng, a financial analyst from Ellicott City on her way to a conference in Miami.
"It was a lot faster, but I didn't know why," she said as she exited the security screening area. "But I like the walkway. The brighter, the better. And it's very clean."
Tom Dungee, a Columbia resident on his way to a golf date in Myrtle Beach, S.C., agreed. "It's pretty and empty and fast," he said. "This is one of the easiest airports to get in and out of and it just got better."
Last year, BWI logged 22.68 million passengers, up 1.3 percent from 2011 and the third consecutive year of growth. It added domestic and international traffic with the addition of low-cost Spirit Airlines; Condor, with its seasonal service to Frankfurt, Germany; and AirTran flights to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic.
The improvements will allow Southwest Airlines and AirTran to use two of the 14 gates in Concourse C in addition to all 26 gates at Concourses A and B. American Airlines and Spirit Airlines also lease gates at Concourse C.
Behind temporary walls, contractors are building shops and restaurants. One level up, work is continuing on an observation gallery that will include aviation displays, a children's play area and a bar.
As that phase of the project nears summer completion, the emphasis is shifting to the third phase: widening Concourse C from its connection to the main terminal to Gate 8. Larger passenger waiting areas and retail shops and a food court will fill the larger space. That work will conclude this fall.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun