After years in the planning and $125 million, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport will unveil much of its two newly reconstructed concourses in mid-November, the airport CEO told local business leaders on Wednesday.
Airport CEO Ricky Smith spoke at a luncheon of around 100 people Wednesday afternoon at the Two Rivers Steak & Fish House in Pasadena about the airport's plans for expansion. Representatives from all six of Anne Arundel's chambers of commerce attended.
Smith said the airport hoped to celebrate a "soft opening" of its newly reconstructed D and E concourses in mid-November. The project creates a connector between the two concourses and includes a new security checkpoint for international and domestic travelers, as well as two new gates.
Construction began at the airport roughly 18 months ago.
"We hope to have that open before Thanksgiving," he said.
While the entire project is slated to be completed in 2017, much of the major additions including the security checkpoint, new food and retail concessions and a gym will be open later this year, said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman.
It will also feature an outdoor plaza where travelers can get something to eat or catch a drink before their flight, Dean said.
Smith also talked about the airport's plans to add additional gates and upgrade its baggage systems in the coming years. In addition, he vowed to continue to target the Washington, D.C., market.
"My No. 1 priority, besides safety and security, is to win D.C.," he said. "We are winning — we are growing our market share at a progressive rate."
The airport is the 22nd busiest in the nation with roughly 65,000 passengers arriving and departing each day, Smith said.
"The airport is probably the largest economic driver in Anne Arundel County," said Fran Schmidt, president of the Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce and an organizer of the event. "I think it's important people understand the role the airport plays not only in the business community, but in the community itself."
The airport is continuing on its plans for an on-site hotel. The state put out a call for proposals last year, but it received no responses, Smith said.
"We're going back to the drawing board," he said.
Smith said airport officials have been reevaluating the location and business model for the on-site hotel and plan to release a second request in the next few months.
Del. Pam Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat who runs her own Nationwide Insurance agency in Glen Burnie, asked Smith about recent computer breakdowns at Southwest and Delta Airlines that caused thousands of cancellations and delays.
Smith attributed Southwest's outage last month to an "antiquated" computer system the airline is in the process of replacing.
"Sixty-six percent of Southwest's traffic goes to BWI," Smith conceded. "Any time there's an issue, BWI is going to be affected."
Smith said any time passengers are left stranded the airport works with the airlines to provide hotel rooms and other accommodations.
"We just try to do whatever we can as an airport to make the inconvenience as tolerable as possible," he said.