Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

$60M expansion, renovation of BWI’s Southwest terminal approved

Debate over airplane noise sparks rare disagreement between Hogan, Franchot

ANNAPOLIS — A request for a $60 million expansion and renovation of the Southwest Airlines terminal at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport led to a rare public disagreement between the governor and comptroller on the handling of a controversial change in landing patterns at the airport.

The expedited request is aimed at modernizing a baggage handling system state officials described as currently failing and to add new gates and retail space. But Comptroller Peter Franchot sought a four-week delay in approval to pressure the Federal Aviation Administration to address the use of its NextGen landing system, which has left residents complaining about excessive noise from lower-flying jets. Franchot, speaking to state airport officials, asked what it “will take to get the FAA to comply with the state’s environmental and noise abatement laws and look at a situation that they have created?”

The comptroller was the lone vote against an expansion and renovation project. Treasurer Nancy Kopp joined with Hogan in approving the project over the comptroller’s objections.

The NextGen system is part of a federal program meant to improve air traffic routes and save fuel.

But Franchot said planes now are “literally coming in so low you can see ‘Goodyear’ written on the tires.”

Howard County, in a petition filed Wednesday with the federal government, asked that flight patterns at BWI be returned to where they were before NextGen was instituted in 2014. County Executive Allan H. Kittleman also expressed frustration with the Federal Aviation Administration and what he describes as a lack of cooperation. That exasperation extends to a recent decision by the FAA to stop its involvement in the BWI Community Roundtable.

In October, the state hired an outside counsel to sue the FAA. The agency has since ceased talks with community groups, citing the pending litigation.

Gov. Larry Hogan has also petitioned the federal agency to address concerns to no avail. He blamed agreements signed by his predecessor, Martin O’Malley.

“We’re coming back in with a new administration saying ‘This is uncalled for. How did this happen? We don’t want this to happen,'” said Hogan. “And they go, ‘Here’s the document where the state of Maryland agreed to it.’”

Even so, Hogan said he has been told by Attorney General Brian E. Frosh the state “has a pretty good case.” But not everyone agrees.

“I don’t think the lawsuit helps,” said David Richardson, senior director of Southwest Airlines. “I think it freezes things up.”

But Franchot, frustrated with what he sees a recalcitrant federal agency, suggested the airline also apply pressure.

“I happen to think the way to get the FAA’s attention is to get Southwest involved in this,” said Franchot.

The project would add five new gates to allow for a modernization of baggage handling facilities and improved retail space.

Ricky Smith, the airport’s CEO, called the baggage system “a travesty, one of the worst in the country and it shouldn’t be that way. We can do better than that.”

The project needs to be underway by January to meet the airline’s requirement that they be in the renovated terminal by 2022, according to Smith.

The newly built gates ultimately would be used by Airtran Airways, moving them to the same the same concourse as Southwest, its parent company.

“The project we’re dealing with today isn’t being pushed by the FAA,” said Hogan. “The FAA couldn’t care less what we’re doing with the baggage terminal or moving the gates. It has nothing to do with the flight patterns.

“To hold up this project would be a disaster, in my opinion,” he added.

Daily Record Business Writer Adam Bednar contributed to this report.

Daily Record Business Writer Adam Bednar contributed to this report.


To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.