State aviation officials have tentatively hired a contractor to build a new baggage system at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport that could allow AirTran Airways, the airport's second leading carrier, to double its daily departures.
The two-year, $32 million project at Terminal D would begin later this spring if approved by the state Board of Public Works. It would triple both the size of the baggage screening area and the rate at which bags are processed as creaky conveyor belts are replaced, BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said.
Terminal D's baggage claim area, cobbled together 10 years ago at a former customs inspection site, will also be renovated.
"The configuration of that space is not ideal for its current usage," Dean said. "The contract process for this project is moving forward."
The Maryland Aviation Administration has tentatively selected W.M. Schlosser Co. of Hyattsville, the low bidder.
Federal financing is expected to pay for the new Transportation Security Administration screening equipment.
A nearly 8,000-square-foot addition will house the screening system, while baggage will be sorted and transferred from belts to departing aircraft in a new 6,500-square-foot makeup area.
The terminal also will get a loading belt for checking in passengers at curbside, automating what is now a labor-intensive process.
AirTran stands to benefit most from the improvements, though Continental, United, US Airways and Midwest Airlines also fly out of the terminal.
The upgrade will increase its capacity to about 1,500 bags an hour from 550, Dean said.
"It takes a lot of effort to keep the current baggage system humming," said Kevin Healy, AirTran's vice president of marketing and planning. "What's key is improving the reliability of the system and speeding the process up."
The facility could give AirTran the ability to double its daily departures, to up to 100 a day.
It still wouldn't be as efficient as Southwest Airlines' facility. The discount carrier, which has about half of BWI's passenger traffic, can screen 2,500 bags an hour through the system in its terminal that opened in 2005. The baggage claim areas in Southwest's terminal are now modernized open spaces with ambient lighting and ample elbow room for customers. The AirTran terminal will gain similar enhancements, Dean said.
"The project will serve as a model for the remaining improvements to domestic baggage claim areas," he said.