If Baltimore-Washington International Airport is to expand its role as a generator of economic development in Maryland, it has to build an international terminal. And if BWI is to draw to the airport carriers from the Far East and the Middle East, it must stretch its runway by 1,000 feet. Otherwise, BWI's future could be severely constrained.
That's why airport officials were so relieved when the Federal Aviation Administration gave its permission for a $3 per ticket surcharge on BWI passengers. That money, over the next 10 years, will help pay for the longer runways and the Pier F international concourse.
When BWI starts collecting the $3 fee Oct. 1, the airport will have three years to submit plans to the FAA and five years to start construction. But state transportation officials see the need for an accelerated schedule: public hearings for the runway extension this fall, construction a year later and completion in the spring of 1994. That would be roughly about the time the new international section would open.
These moves, plus the proposed merger of USAir and British Airways, could prompt an explosion of international flights through BWI. That's crucial because domestic travel through the airport has been flat for two years. In that same time period, overseas traffic has jumped 77 percent.
Yet the airport's current three international gates are clearly inadequate to handle the crush of arriving and departing planes at peak hours. And the shorter runway is a major impediment in luring airlines from Asia and the Mideast. The airport has to expand if it is to grow.
The $3 surcharge is a fair way of raising $142 million for these purposes over 10 years. Other cash will be needed, though, to finish the job. It will have to come from the state's consolidated transportation fund -- or from a private source. Given the state's tight fiscal bind and the demand for more road and mass-transit projects, the Schaefer administration should take a good look at offers to privatize the international terminal project -- letting a private consortium such as Lockheed and Westinghouse build the structure with their own money and then manage the operation.
One way or another, BWI has to enlarge its overseas activities. With international trade looming as a major source of economic development for Maryland in the coming decades, the airport's role becomes even more important. Let's get these projects under way -- now!