BWI's new terminal: a gateway to the world Travel: The state hopes its $139 million international terminal will rebuild the airport's overseas service and benefit from the global economy. The wing opens next weekend.; BWI's INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL


An article in Sunday's editions about the new international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport incorrectly reported the current number of regularly scheduled flights a week. The correct number is 106.

The Sun regrets the error.

The ultramodern Gov. William Donald Schaefer International Terminal opens this week at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in a $139 million gamble to rebuild the airport's sagging overseas service and cash in on an increasingly global economy.

The 365,000-square-foot pier, a third the size of the main terminal, doubles BWI's international capacity and is the most significant expansion since the signature space-frame building supplanted the old Friendship International terminal in the late // 1970s.

The six-gate wing at the terminal's north end replaces the tiny, outmoded Pier E with bright, expansive corridors and a 90-foot-high pyramid skylight over the central lobby. It features amenities such as high-speed baggage carousels, retail shops and oversized flight information boards. A light-rail spur will open simultaneously on the lower level, providing a mass transit link to Baltimore.

"Finally, BWI has something to sell," said O. James Lighthizer, former state secretary of transportation, who helped spearhead the project. "With the severely limited facilities, there was no hope of international growth."

The pier's debut Saturday will complete a four-year endeavor, with skeptics portraying the facility as a risky "field of dreams" proposition. Indeed, while the airport has boomed domestically, its international service, never extensive, has dwindled in recent years with the losses of a major European carrier, direct service to South America and most of its Caribbean flights.

Today, there are 47 regularly scheduled international flights a week, a third the number five years ago. British Airways offers a daily flight to London, while Icelandair flies to Luxembourg via Reykjavik. There are no other flights to Europe, nor any service to South America or Pacific Rim countries.

Yet, with large charter flights mounting, the number of international passengers has more than doubled since 1982, frequently overwhelming the customs and immigration area.

Without the new wing, BWI -- sandwiched between a thriving Washington-Dulles International Airport and growing international service at Philadelphia -- had virtually no hope of attracting more overseas flights or capitalizing on a burgeoning global economy.

"It was a gamble, but a gamble worth taking," Lighthizer said. "This is just BWI positioning itself to get its piece of the pie."

The wager -- funded largely by a federally authorized $3-a-ticket surcharge -- has paid off. In August, the Department of the Air Force named BWI as its northeastern international gateway for military personnel traveling to Europe, a move that could add 200,000 international passengers a year and pump $50 million to $100 million into the local economy.

Indeed, the spinoff of a daily flight to London is estimated at $240 million, while a flight to Tokyo generates about $700 million a year, according to Kurth & Co. Inc., a Washington aviation consultant.

Overall, international travel is expanding at a rate of 7.1 percent a year, with the number of passengers expected to rise from 371 million this year to 521 million by 2000. Weekend jaunts to Paris are not uncommon; businessmen commute to Europe. International air service is a critical factor in attracting new businesses, with overseas subsidiaries creating tremendous demand for travel.

"An airport with a good pattern of air service is crucial to a viable economy," said BWI Administrator Theodore E. Mathison. "We've seen that time and time again as businesses look to move into the state."

"The international climate is booming," said Jeffrey Miller, an Ellicott City lawyer who specializes in transportation matters. "In the long run, the state needed it for economic development."

With 80 percent of the 52 new ticket counters leased, BWI officials are confident that they have not built a white elephant. But the challenge is attracting airlines that regard Washington-Dulles International -- with 18 international carriers and 194 weekly departures -- as the area's premier international airport.

"If airlines have to make a commitment, it will usually be Dulles," said David Stempler, president of Air Travelers Advisers, a Washington travel consultant. "It's really the market that determines things as opposed to the terminal itself."

Under bilateral agreements, airlines could fly from BWI to Madrid, Spain; Frankfurt, Germany; Rome, the Netherlands and many points in the Far East. A runway at the airport was extended to 10,500 feet three years ago to accommodate fuel-laden planes bound for the Pacific Rim.

But the task of attracting international airlines has become more difficult in recent years because dominant American carriers at most major airports have formed alliances with international carriers. United Airlines, the hub carrier at Dulles, is aligned with Lufthansa; each now operates a daily flight to Frankfurt.

By contrast, BWI's leading carrier, US Airways, broke off its relationship with British Airways last year, leaving it with no international partner.

"What you're going to find in the world is alliances competing against each other," said Charles Croce, a spokesman for Lufthansa Airlines in New York. "It's going to be tougher these days for new airports or airports who don't have international service to attract carriers unless they have international partners."

The new international wing -- in the midst of the nation's fourth largest travel market -- will be a valuable marketing tool, combined with BWI's multimillion-dollar roadway improvements, its newly opened 5,600-space parking garage and its accessibility.

"We're making an announcement that Baltimore has a premier facility for getting carriers here," Bill Bodouva, head of William Nicholas Bodouva and Associates, architect for the terminal in conjunction with STV Group.

Named for former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, an ardent promoter of international business growth in Maryland, the new wing was designed with an eye to additional growth, with room to expand to 15 gates from six.

On the upper level, family and friends will be allowed to accompany departing passengers to their gates. On the lower level, they can await arriving passengers in a spacious "meeter and greeter" lounge outside customs.

The new customs and immigration area can handle 900 passengers an hour -- doubling the capacity.

"You could put all of this in one corner of the new wing," said Richard Hoerner, a U.S. Customs Bureau inspector referring to the current customs area as he awaited British Airways' late-afternoon flight from London.

Before US Airways shifted its Caribbean and Canadian flights to its international terminal in Philadelphia in the spring, several planes often sat simultaneously on the tarmac waiting to discharge weary passengers through the congested Customs area.

"It was like putting 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag," said Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator of marketing and development at BWI.

Now, with a 20-pound bag, BWI officials hope to capitalize on the airport's phenomenal growth in domestic passengers, which jumped from 9 million to 12 million in 1994, making it the fastest-growing airport in the country.

Much of that growth came from the Washington area, which accounts for a third of the airport's estimated 13.8 million passengers this year. That is proof, many say, that Washingtonians have learned to think BWI.

"BWI has really gotten hold of a major Prince George's-Montgomery market," said former Prince George's County Del. Timothy F. Maloney, who serves on the BWI Development Council. "The access is terrific with I-195. And even though it may appear equidistant, BWI is a much closer drive than Dulles. It's impossible to get to Dulles at certain times of the day."

While they don't expect to steal carriers outright from Dulles, BWI officials hope to persuade Lufthansa or Alitalia, for instance, add a flight at BWI, much the way carriers did at Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

The growth at Newark was sparked by Continental Airlines' purchase of People Express in 1986 and its subsequent alliance with Scandinavian Airline System (SAS), which moved its

operation from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Newark. While no other carriers shifted there entirely, two dozen international carriers began spinoff service at Newark.

"I wouldn't expect airlines like Lufthansa or Air France to leave Dulles lock, stock and barrel," Hierholzer said. "But some are looking at adding a second or third flight, and that's where we think BWI could get a shot at that service."

After losing billions during the late 1980s and early 1990s, international carriers are enjoying a resurgence, with profits reaching $12 billion last year. Many are looking to expand, though airports often have little control over many of the factors influencing airlines' decisions.

For example, US Airways has chosen to consolidate its growing international service at Philadelphia International Airport, the only airport in a heavily populated area. That decision led to the loss of US Airways' Caribbean flights and much of its Canadian service at BWI.

"The carriers won't come just because we have the terminal," said Robert R. Linowes, a member of the BWI Airport Commission. "It's going to take a lot of work and real hustling to get these changes."

The prospect of more discount flights by US Airways and Southwest Airlines at BWI, along with new domestic service such as the transcontinental flights inaugurated by United Airlines this year, could create a significant feed for international flights.

Besides well-known carriers, BWI officials hope to attract European start-ups such as Belgium's CityBird SA, a year-old discounter that flies between Brussels and six U.S. cities.

"We are actively reviewing a Washington gateway," said Trevor Sadler, operations manager for City-Bird, adding that BWI's growing discount flights would be a natural fit for its customers.

"The natural gravitation of budgeted-minded travelers is to seek out such combinations," Sadler said. "A gateway with high-priced destinations wouldn't be as attractive."

Southwest, which has formed an alliance with Icelandair, has begun marketing flat-rate air passes in Britain that allow tourists to the United States unlimited travel.

Should the strategies for adding international flights not pay off, BWI planners have hedged their bet: The new pier also can be used for domestic flights.

In compliance with security regulations, international passengers can be isolated from domestic ones. The gates are interchangeable, depending on arrival and departure times. The baggage belts in the existing international Pier E have been converted to domestic use.

With the airport's 56 domestic jet gates operating near capacity, the wing's dual capability could prove valuable. Pier D and Pier C, the airport's busiest areas, have been expanded as far as possible.

"Heaven forbid the international terminal is a disaster, then you can make it into a domestic terminal," Lighthizer said.

"One way or another, it's going to be used. There is no question in my mind that they will be expanding the terminal in the next five years."

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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