USAir Group Inc. said it would fight a proposed $130 million expansion of the international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport when the project goes to federal authorities for approval soon.
The financially struggling carrier, which is the largest airline at BWI, called the price "absolutely staggering" and said airlines would be forced to pay for the expansion at a time they can least afford it.
"This is an extreme case of 'build it and they will come,' " Chuck Stipancic, director of airport affairs and corporate real estate for USAir, said this week.
But Maryland officials insisted the existing three-gate international facility, while vacant much of the day, was inadequate to handle traffic at peak times.
In addition, they said, the expanded facility -- which many have dubbed "a field of dreams" proposal -- was needed to attract new international carriers to BWI.
"We respect USAir's opinion, but we have concluded beyond a doubt that we desperately need a new facility as soon as we can get one," Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer said yesterday.
Construction of the expanded terminal was expected to begin next summer, pending approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. It was not clear what impact USAir's objections would have with the FAA, though other airlines were expected to support USAir, the hub carrier at BWI.
An FAA spokesman said yesterday that the agency would weigh the airlines' objections in making its decision.
After four years of devastating losses, airlines nationwide are intensely scrutinizing costs. Over the past 10 years, airport costs, such as rents and landing fees, have increased 85 percent, according to the Air Transport Association, which represents most domestic airlines.
For example, USAir and other airlines have been fighting increased landing fees at Los Angeles International Airport. In addition, the Arlington, Va.-based carrier has fought expansion plans at National Airport outside Washington.
Recently, USAir announced plans to lay off 2,500 workers and trim operating costs by $200 million in 1994.
According to several industry sources, USAir Chairman Seth E. Schofield has assigned high priority to getting the international terminal scaled back or delayed.
Construction plans were postponed earlier this year, partly because KLM, a major European carrier, shifted its operation from BWI to Washington Dulles International Airport. State officials moved forward with the plans this summer, citing the alliance this year between USAir and British Airways as evidence of need.
As a result of its partnership with USAir, British Airways took over USAir's daily service from BWI to London on Oct. 1.
Mr. Lighthizer said he found USAir's objections "a little curious in view of the fact that one user is British Airways." British Airways, which also flies from Dulles, has not indicated whether it plans to expand at BWI.
"For the moment, we believe the current facilities [at BWI] are adequate," said Sandy Gardiner, a spokesman for British Airways at its New York office.
USAir has long said it favored a limited expansion of the terminal. As a result, the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates BWI, scaled back the facility, cutting the proposed number of total gates to five from 12.
"They cut a token $10 million out of the initial project, but $10 million is nothing," Mr. Stipancic said. "We were expecting a dramatic reduction in scope and scale."State officials plan to build the terminal using revenues from a $3 ticket fee charged to each BWI passenger. While the FAA approved the fee effective Oct. 1, 1992, it must still approve construction of the international terminal and three other smaller projects to be financed with the ticket fee.