BWI proposes expedited, $60 million concourse expansion for Southwest Airlines

BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport wants the state to spend $60 million to expand Concourse A to handle Southwest Airlines’ growth.

Southwest is Baltimore-Washington International’s top airline, accounting for 68 percent of the airport’s passengers last year, or 18.2 million people.

Plans call for adding five new gates and passenger waiting areas as well as food and retail concession space and restrooms in a 55,000-square-foot addition, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration. The passenger hold rooms will be large enough to accommodate the 175 people Southwest’s new Boeing 737 MAX8 airliners can carry.

The project’s design is expected to be complete next month, and the agency has asked the state Board of Public Works to expedite the procurement process at its next meeting to allow construction to break ground in January and finish by July 2020.

That timeline will allow the airport to temporarily close five other Southwest gates in the concourse beginning July 2020 for upgrades to the A/B Connector and a redesign of the airline’s baggage-handling system, which it has outgrown, the state agency wrote in its request to the Board of Public Works.

“These improvements will provide additional gates and associated support facilities to meet existing and projected demand for Southwest operations ... as well as [the airline’s] expanded operations post construction,” the aviation administration said.

The request goes before the board, composed of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, on Thursday, July 19, a meeting rescheduled from Wednesday.

“The governor is incredibly proud and supportive of BWI's continued success and growth, and looks forward to reviewing this item and addressing the proposal at the upcoming Board of Public Works meeting,” spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in a statement.

The airport is pursuing “a very aggressive delivery schedule” to meet the deadlines.

If the proposal is approved by the board, the aviation administration plans to solicit bids for the project on its marketplace next month and award the job by December. The board typically approves expansion requests for BWI.

BWI is Southwest’s second-busiest airport, with up to 243 departures a day to 64 cities, according to the Dallas-based airline. Its passenger volume at BWI grew 4.3 percent last year.

Because of its “overall activity level,” Southwest cannot feasibly use five other gates during the upgrades to the concourse and baggage-handling system, the aviation administration said.

“Once the renovations to the A/B Connector are completed, the five additional gates on Concourse A will accommodate Southwest’s planned new service,” the agency said.

Southwest declined to comment Tuesday on the airport expansion proposal or any plans for new service before the board vote.

But BWI “continues to serve as a very important airport in the Southwest network,” the airline said in a statement.

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the airport and the aviation administration, called the expansion “a critical enabling project, an initial step in a major, longer term program of work to improve our Terminal A/B.”

“That major effort will provide an improved level of service for our passengers and accommodate future growth from our largest airline partner, Southwest Airlines,” Dean said in a statement.

The proposal would be the latest expansion for the state’s largest airport, which served 26 million passengers last year, its third consecutive annual passenger record.

In November 2016, BWI opened a $105 million connection between its D and E concourses, which features an upgraded security checkpoint, more shops and restaurants, a children's play area, a gym, an art gallery and even an outdoor observation deck.

Last year the state approved a $60 million contract to Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. to extend its international terminal, adding six new gates and 70,000 square feet of total space. That renovation is expected to be completed this summer.

The planned Concourse A expansion would have an apron level with 24,000 square feet of new space, including mechanical, electrical, communication, and custodial services storage rooms, the Maryland Aviation Administration said.

The departures level would offer 31,000 square feet, composed of the passenger waiting areas and retail and concession space, an elevator and restrooms. It also would include “unassigned space that is anticipated to be occupied in whole or in part by Southwest,” the agency said.

The aviation administration has proposed using the state Transportation Trust Fund to fund just over half the project and passenger facility charge bonds for the rest.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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