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AirTran moving terminals at BWI

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will shuffle the locations of some of its air carriers next week and again in December to prepare for a $100 million expansion project slated to begin in the spring, officials announced Wednesday.

The changes at BWI will allow for the continued growth of Southwest Airlines Co. The low-fare carrier is already the dominant airline at Maryland’s airport and will take a 70 percent share of the market when it completes its acquisition of AirTran Airways next year.

“We are now their busiest airport in the country,” said BWI’s Executive Director Paul J. Wiedefeld. “We need to make sure they have the opportunity to go further.”

BWI served 1.77 million passengers in September, a 1.6 percent increase over last year and the most ever in that month. The airport has seen passenger growth in 26 of the last 28 months, much of that driven by Southwest’s growth.

“We have to react to the marketplace,” said Wiedefeld. “That’s what’s driving a lot of this” expansion.

Southwest accounts for about 54 percent of the business at BWI, and AirTran accounts for 16 percent. The two airlines expect to receive permission to operate as one from the Federal Aviation Administration in the first quarter of next year.

Construction on the expansion is scheduled to start in the spring and be finished in the summer of 2013. The project will be covered by airport revenues, but still needs Board of Public Works approval.

The first step visible to passengers will come Nov. 16. AirTran will move its operations into Southwest’s wing of BWI — the airline is the only carrier in concourses A and B.

AirTran’s jets will use odd-numbered gates from B1 to B11, and its ticket and baggage operations will move in alongside those of Southwest.

The airlines have added 16 automated ticket kiosks and another curbside check-in counter.

BWI will open a new security checkpoint on the bottom floor of the airport to accommodate the increased traffic into A and B. All the other checkpoints are on the airport’s second floor.

On Dec. 13, Delta Air Lines will move from concourse C to the space vacated by AirTran on concourse D.

BWI will then renovate concourse C, the oldest section of the airport with six decades under its belt, and add a walkway more than two football fields long between it and Southwest’s wing.

The walkway, with new retail space and restaurants, would mean an easy expansion into concourse C for Southwest if it outgrows its terminal.

“Baltimore is definitely a growth market for us,” said Mike Behnke, Southwest’s assistant station manager at BWI. “We’re really excited about the possibilities with the addition of AirTran.”

Behnke said Southwest uses 18 of the 26 A and B gates. After the move, the airlines will use all the gates, he said.

The walkway will also allow passengers who have cleared security to move between concourses A, B and C without going back through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

Wiedefeld said the airport’s plan is to eventually link all of its concourses beyond security checkpoints like the one that that will link B and C.

The construction project also includes larger waiting areas at C gates, more concession space on that concourse and a new nine-lane security checkpoint between concourses B and C, replacing the Delta ticket counters that will have moved to concourse D.