Lack of transportation keeping Baltimore residents from jobs at BWI Marshall, CEO says

Lack of transportation presents the biggest obstacle to Baltimore residents who want to work at BWI Marshall Airport, the airport’s CEO told a group of business executives Wednesday.

Growth in the numbers of passengers and airlines has led to an expansion of the airport’s roughly 14,000-person workforce, a number of whom do live in Baltimore. But getting Baltimoreans to the airport in Linthicum has been “a major challenge,” Maryland Aviation Administrator Ricky Smith said.

The Maryland Transit Administration currently offers bus and light rail service to the airport, but Smith did not criticize the existing service other than to say the airport needs to work with business leaders to help better connect Baltimore’s workforce with the jobs at the airport.

Smith painted an otherwise mostly sunny picture of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport’s position during his address at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s monthly newsmaker’s breakfast at the organization’s downtown headquarters.

The airport has set 24 consecutive monthly passenger records and expects to surpass last year’s record of 25.7 million passengers, he said. International travel is forecast to slide slightly due to Southwest Airlines refocusing on domestic flights and Norwegian Airlines canceling flights between Baltimore and Martinique, Smith said.

“We expect to see international travel grow in the long run, but next year we will see a slight dip,” he said.

BWI Marshall is the 22nd busiest U.S. airport, with an average of 70,000 passengers per day and 90 domestic and international destinations, he said. Its airlines are adding more destinations all the time, Smith said.

“By the time I leave this room, it could be 91 or 92,” he joked.

By keeping construction projects at BWI practical and cost-effective, he said, the airport has become the region’s leader in a key statistic: lowest cost per enplaned passenger.

Airlines pay rent and landing fees to operate at an airport, and the lower the cost per customer, the more attractive an airport is to the airline, Smith said. By keeping construction costs low, BWI Marshall has been able to pass savings to airlines and passengers — and win the largest percentage of the D.C. area’s market share by positioning itself as the region’s best low-cost airport, he said.

“They build cathedrals,” he said, referring to other airports’ construction projects. “We build impressive facilities, but we take a more practical approach. That drives the cost down.”

BWI Marshall’s cost per passenger is $9.40, far less than the $17 per passenger that airlines must pay at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or $24 at Dulles International Airport, Smith said.

The convenience of getting in and out of the airport and its customer service focus are other factors that have vaulted it ahead of its Washington-area competitors, he said.

“We’re winning D.C.,” he said.

As the airport expands, connecting its five terminals and taking on other construction projects, it will seek to hire minority contractors — not just minority subcontractors, Smith told Baltimore Development Corp. chairman Arnold Williams.

Williams, a certified public accountant, said inclusion is “good for the business community.”

He wasn’t surprised to hear transportation is hampering Baltimoreans from getting jobs at the airport.

“It’s hard to get people to Amazon, and that’s closer,” he said. “It’s solvable. Let’s solve it.”

Monica Hawkins, CEO of the Professional Pipeline Development Group, an executive consulting firm, said she invites 100 international company executives to Washington each year for a summit. They fly into BWI, she said, and she hopes to see international traffic expand to benefit them.

”It’s the global economy my client base serves,” she said. “I want to see BWI win its fair share.”

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, called the airport a “gem and an economic engine” for the state that is a gateway through which many city visitors arrive.

“We want as many of our residents who are looking for work to be able to get to work,” he said. “I’m glad to hear there’s a conversation being had to close that gap.”

“If we can provide a transportation option, it’s definitely worth studying,” he said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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