After years of trying, Baltimore International Airport has received official permission to refer to itself as BWI instead of BAL.

This may seem a small matter, but that little three-letter code is the key to solving BWI'S identity crisis. BWI, you see, wants to be known as a regional airport with good access to the nation's capital as well as to Harundale Mall, Glen Burnie, Arbutus and Baltimore.

Yesterday, the International Air Transport Association, the organization that officially assigns three-letter codes, gave BWI to BAL. "It's been a long hard fight," said Karl Sattler, Maryland Aviation Administrator.

The new name becomes official October 26.

Two years ago, in an interview, Sattler had complained: "The airlines advertise us as a Washington airport . . . But the customer at the counter sees the luggage tag that says 'BAL. Then the customer says, 'I'm going to Washington, not Baltimore,' and the little girl gets flustered.If the tag says 'Bwi,' there will be no confusion."

One problem that had to be resolved was that another airport already had the BWI designation. That airport, 10,000 miles from Baltimore, was in Bewani, Papua, New Guinea. The lost-luggage possibilities are obvious.

Bewani, Papua, New Guinea will receive a new designation, "Maybe they'll call it BAL," Sattler joked.