Westinghouse Electric Corp., maker of military airplane components, set up operations in the early 1950s in Linthicum, where it paved a taxiway from its newly built hangar to a runway at adjacent Friendship International Airport.
With runway access, aircraft could fly in to get radar installed, and engineers could immediately test the electronics they built.
The number of passengers that fly in and out of BWI Airport grew from 9 million to nearly 20 million last year.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
During the next 50 years, more firms eager for easy access to clients, business partners and satellite offices in other parts of the country slowly clustered around what has been renamed Baltimore-Washington International Airport. This created a dense area of commerce within a five-mile radius of BWI.
This year alone, construction has been completed, or will be, on 13 office buildings near the airport, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. said. Seven hotels near BWI are in the development pipeline, compared with six atDulles International Airport and three at Reagan National Airport, according to research firm Lodging Econometrics. One of those, the BWI Hilton Park, is expected to contain 400,000 square feet of office space.
But development around BWI has come slowly and may never match activity at Dulles, a much larger facility that supports more cargo activity and more international flights, both of which are key to certain industries. Dulles, built amid open fields, grew to 11,000 acres while BWI has 3,600.
That leaves little space for cargo facilities for the quick movement of high-value or perishable items such as electronics, biomedicine or flowers, said Neil Shpritz, former executive of BWI Business Partnership Inc. It also leaves little room for runways long enough to support nonstop flights to the Pacific Rim because fully loaded jets cannot gain enough momentum for takeoff, he said.
Bill Badger, president and chief executive of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said BWI's land constraints could come to a head in 20 years if the state, which owns the airport, does not acquire more land.
"There aren't thousands of acres available to act as a buffer between the airport and residential areas, business parks, and retail development," Badger said.
For years, lack of space was hardly a problem. Friendship International was a sleepy airport for decades after its opening in 1950. The state bought it in 1972, renamed it, and sunk tens of millions of dollars into renovating it.
When Southwest Airlines Co. arrived in 1993 the airport took off. Other lower-cost airlines followed, and BWI was transformed into major transportation hub.