Friday, June 25, 2010

BWI Celebrated 60th Birthday

YESTERDAY -- In 101 degree heat BWI had a birthday yesterday and my sister and I were unaware of it as we sat and waited for a relative's plane to land. Gee, I didn't see a birthday cake!

Sixty years ago an airport carved out of Anne Arundel County farmland ushered Baltimore into the airliner age

Today, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is the nation's 23rd busiest.

The airport, dedicated by President Harry Truman as Friendship International Airport, now serves about 21 million passengers and handles more than a quarter-million takeoffs and landings a year. BWI is an important base for low-cost carriers and is estimated to support about 22,000 jobs. It was one of only two large U.S. airports to grow in 2009.

"We are the low-cost-carrier airport," said BWI Chief Executive Paul Wiedefeld, pointing to the strong growth of such carriers as Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways.

Friendship replaced Harbor Field, a 360-acre municipal airport on the site of what is now the Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Mayor Theodore McKeldin appointed a committee to study the idea of building a new airport in 1943. The site that was selected is between Baltimore and Washington, which at the time was served only by National Airport, on a plateau high above sea level, which reduces the dangers of fog.

In 1945, the city created the Baltimore Aviation Commission to oversee construction of the airport. Its cost would eventually run to $15 million about $136 million in current dollars.

For all its cutting-edge features in 1950, Friendship did not remain a paragon of modernity for long. Though passenger growth remained strong through the 1960s, Friendship would be eclipsed by more advanced facilities soon after it opened. Once jets began commercial operations in 1957-1958, Bentley said, "you had the airports all over the country mushrooming."

In the 1970s, the state spent $36 million to take over the airport, renamed it Baltimore-Washington International to capitalize on its location and launched a $70 million rebuilding program.

In 2001 a $1.8 billion expansion began with a long-term hub for Southwest Airlines, which began flying out of BWI in 1993 and is now the airport's biggest customer.

But BWI has retained some of the feel of the original airport with less "tenseness" than some of its rivals, Wiedefeld said.

"We did not lose sight of the personal connection the people feel you have compared with other airports," he said. "It's still Friendship Airport in a lot of people's minds.

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