Maryland looks anew at turning BWI private Governor seeks study despite own panel's opposition


A new advisory group of high-level Maryland businessmen has quietly been appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to look at whether Baltimore-Washington International Airport should be turned over to private business.

The governor appointed the group recently even though his own Task Force on Privatization recommended against such a move just two months ago. A private consultant who was hired to analyze the prospect of privatizing BWI also viewed it skeptically.

"This is BWI re-revisited," said William K. Hellmann, head of the task force, which studied the issue for several months. Mr. Hellmann is a former state transportation secretary.

The appointment of the committee is seen by many as an attempt by Mr. Schaefer to appease House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent County Democrat, who says BWI is an example of where the financially strapped state government should allow private industry to take over.

BWI is one of only three state-owned airports in the country, although many of its functions are handled by private concerns. Mr. Schaefer has said repeatedly that the state should not relinquish control of the airport, which is considered a key economic development tool that generates thousands of jobs.

Nevertheless, the governor is expected to follow the recommendations of the 10-member committee.

"He is looking for another perspective from this group," said Page W. Boinest, a spokeswoman for the governor. "They're largely businesspeople who would look at the bottom line yet want to protect the state's investment."

Members of the committee either could not be reached or declined to comment on their talks, which got under way Wednesday at BWI. A recommendation is expected within two months.

Mr. Mitchell said he hopes the group will recommend that the state solicit formal proposals from companies interested in running the airport.

"As sick as the airline industry is, you need someone running BWI who really understands airline talk and the industry," Mr. Mitchell said.

A House of Delegates committee is scheduled to hear testimony Monday on a bill sponsored by Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat, to require Maryland's Transportation Department to seek bids.

A consortium made up of Lockhheed Air Terminal, a unit of the giant aircraft maker, and Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group of Linthicum has lobbied state officials to allow it to jointly lease BWI. In addition, representatives for Johnston Controls have approached the state about managing it.

In most years, BWI operates at a substantial profit.

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