BWI Expands Baggage Handling Capacity to Support AirTran Growth

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

The fastest growing carrier in Baltimore is on the verge of a surge in new capacity to meet its rising needs.

Five years ago, AirTran was operating 20 flights a day out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Lately, it has tripled that volume with daily flights peaking above 60.

Two years ago, BWI Marshall executives sat down with AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro to discuss capacity issues with their fastest growing carrier.

 Surprisingly, the discussions centered on baggage handling. "AirTran is leasing six gates and will probably take a seventh, and we have a couple more in reserve if they need them," reports BWI Marshall deputy executive director James Walsh. "The biggest constraint was their outbound baggage handling system."

The airport consequently committed to using passenger facility charge (PFC) funds to construct an inline baggage system so AirTran could continue to add air service at BWI Marshall.

"AirTran has been true to their word and adding service and growing at BWI," notes Walsh, "and we have been true to ours in constructing this baggage handling system that will give them the capacity and the opportunity to expand."

Facts & Figures

Project: Pier D/E Baggage Screening/Claims Area Improvement

Airport: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

Cost: $36 million

Program Manager: Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson

Prime Design Consultant: URS

Construction Manager: Parsons

Prime Contractor: W.M. Schlosser Company

Baggage Handling System: Vanderlande

From Conception to Construction

The handshake deal between the two parties was solidified when W.M. Schlosser Company shovels broke ground on the Pier D/E Baggage Screening and Claims Area Improvement project in May 2008.

The project is a 16,000- square-foot bump-out of the lower-level terminal building. The area will encompass a new AirTran screening area housing a fully inline Vanderlande baggage screening system with three explosive detection systems. Ultimately, a new baggage makeup area and baggage makeup carousel for AirTran will occupy that part of the terminal building. The project, including design and soft costs, totals $36 million. TSA has an $11.5 million grant for their eligible portions.

Alan Peljovich, P.E., program manager for Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, expects the second half of the inbound baggage claim system and the complete renovation of the baggage claim hall to be complete in November. The first half of the inbound system was already operational in August. Completion of the outbound baggage system is scheduled for April 2010.

Long-term Vision

Although BWI Marshall's current D/E baggage area project is oriented to AirTran's needs, it did not want to be tied down to a sole-source, custom-based system. With flexibility in mind, the building bump-out and baggage handling system, designed by URS, were sized to handle the ultimate load that would be served in that portion of the terminal building.

"We really tried to maximize and look to the future to make the best use of the system," Peljovich says. "We built out to the ultimate planning building line, and the roof of the bump-out we're building now is structurally going to serve as the floor for the terminal level in the future. We really had an eye toward the future and what the terminal use would be in the future."

The project also follows the ongoing planning effort to bring all terminal areas up to the standards of BWI Marshall's Terminal A/B, the relatively new area where Southwest operates.

"We are going to be going back through the rest of our terminal at some point in our planning to unify the aesthetic of the airport," Peljovich explains. "So this terminal bump-out is actually designed to seamlessly integrate the future modernization of the terminal."

The baggage makeup room created now can be very easily reconfigured to include space adjacent to it that is currently being used by United, he notes. The system could also be easily configured to sort bags if two airlines were to use it.

"The way the terminal is, we only envision AirTran using it right now, but we can certainly have a sort matrix and we can deliver bags to different makeup areas," Peljovich says.

On the Terminal Side

When bumping out the terminal, BWI Marshall had to maintain the terminal floor height. Because the apron for the bump-out is five feet above the terminal floor, a lot of ramping and apron reconfiguration was required to get the baggage tugs down to grade.

"We have impacted a lot of tenants and have done some tenant relocation due to the renovation of BWI Marshall's old Customs claim area being used by Tranair and United," says Peljovich. "There are two bag claim devices in there, so we closed off one-half of the bag claim hall and moved AirTran to another part of the terminal for baggage claim. We redid the one area, established a new baggage office for United, and then opened the one claim device."

In August, crews were working on the second half. "We will open the entire renovated claims hall with new claims devices with lengths for storing bags that is more inline with the aircraft and the demand that we are getting now, and move AirTran back into the renovated claim hall," he says.

New Conveniences

The D/E baggage area project will also incorporate a new takeaway belt that will enable skycaps to introduce the bags into the screening system from the terminal roadway curbside.

A new 8,000-square-foot enclosure for inbound baggage drop off will aid customer service.

"It is really an upgrade in customer service because the old drop-off belts used to be out in the weather," Peljovich explains. "Now we have created an indoor space for the baggage tugs to move in, so employees don't have to stand in the rain with the bags."


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