Unwilling to snip Baltimore-Washington International Airport's financial lifeline to the state, a gubernatorial advisory committee has recommended that BWI not be operated by an independent authority like most other airports.
Instead, the nine-man committee said yesterday that a private-sector commission, like the one that oversees the port of Baltimore, should be set up to help the Maryland Aviation Administration run BWI.
"The financial risks associated with creating an independent BWI are significant," the committee said in a report to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Since 1973, when the state bought the old Friendship Airport from the city, it has invested $283 million in improvements.
During the same time, however, the airport has generated only $112 million in net operating income, the report said.
"Historically, BWI has not generated enough net income to support its capital investment," the report concluded.
The recommendation by the committee culminates a yearlong debate over who should run BWI, the only major state-owned-and-operated airport in the nation.
With state finances strained, some have insisted that the Linthicum airport was costing the state far too much and that private business should take it over. After rejecting that notion, Mr. Schaefer in August asked the committee of business executives to look at whether an independent authority should operate BWI.
BWI is funded by various sources, including federal money and landing fees, concession rents and parking revenues. It also receives money from the state's Transportation Trust Fund, a separate entity within the state's Department of Transportation that is funded by motor vehicle fees and fuel taxes.
Elsewhere in the country, authority-operated airports get little or no state funds and generally issue bonds to raise money in addition to fees and rents.
A $400 million capital improvement program -- including a $130 million expansion of the international terminal -- is planned for BWI during the next six years.
The proposed commission would be composed largely of business executives -- similar to the panel that advises the Maryland Port Administration -- and chaired by the secretary of transportation.
"The recommendation gives the airport the best of both worlds -- meaningful private-sector involvement yet access to the capital it needs," said Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer.
Mr. Schaefer is expected to ask the 1994 General Assembly to approve such a group. Under the proposal, the legislature would retain its budgetary control over the airport -- an important political consideration.
The advisory panel rejected a proposal to combine BWI with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs National
Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. It said such a move might help BWI better market itself as a Washington-area airport but otherwise would have no advantage.