Last updated: 11:19 AM ET, Thu April 23 2015

International Passenger Growth Drives BWI Airport Expansion Plans

Airlines & Airports | Patrick Clarke | April 23, 2015

International Passenger Growth Drives BWI Airport Expansion Plans

PHOTO: BWI's international terminal via Wiki Images.

Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has experienced tremendous international growth of late, leading airport officials to consider signficant expansion.

According to Kevin Rector of the Baltimore Sun, officials are currently deliberating over a complex expansion plan.

The officials are considering a $126 million project that would add two departure gates and six arrival gates at the international E concourse. But so far, the state of Maryland has only set aside enough to cover 0.1 percent of that cost as the project is still technically in the design stage. However, if funding is secured, the new-look concourse could be unveiled within two or three years. 

WJZ-TV reporter Pat Warren provides a look at what the completed project would comprise:

Meanwhile, another $125 million project is already in the works to connect concourses E and D and add additional gates that could be used interchangeably between international and domestic service. It was approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works in March and is expected to be finished sometime in 2017. 

According to the Maryland Aviation Administration, despite a 1.8 percent decline in domestic fliers in 2014, BWI experienced a 13.5 percent increase in international passengers. And airport CEO Paul Wiedefeld points out that international volume at BWI was up a whopping 27 percent year-over-year this past February. 

"We need to start thinking seriously about what we can do to facilitate additional international growth," said Wiedefeld via Rector. 

BWI's largest carrier, Southwest Airlines recently entered the international market, driving the aforementioned growth at the airport. And although the low-cost airline hasn't committed to utilizing additional gates if they come to fruition, earlier this year Southwest president and CEO Gary Kelly expressed a desire for BWI to be a "focal point" of the Dallas-based carrier's network.

An airline spokeswoman went on to say that Southwest officials are "aware of the international expansion study at BWI and appreciate Maryland Aviation Administration's proactive approach and partnership with Southwest to ensure we are prepared for the future."

While it remains to be seen whether BWI will move forward with the latest project proposal, it's clear that officials have plenty of tough decisions in front of them as skyrocketing demand and substantial costs create a dilemma.

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