BWI Marshall: The Airport at 60

It was a quick flight. Probably less time than the President’s motorcade needed to drive across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, along the Mount Vernon Parkway, and into National Airport.

Friendship Airport
But, as Harry S. Truman’s red, white, and blue DC-6, The Independence, made the short hop, the “Flying White House,” inaugurated a successful relationship between the Baltimore region and its airport, then named Friendship International Airport.

On June 24, 2010 that relationship hits its 60-year mark, and although Friendship has been renamed Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, its success has continued to grow.

Back in 1950, June 24 was the archetypal 90+ degree, sweaty summer day. Then Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Senator Millard E. Tydings, and Maryland Governor William Preston Lane, greeted President Truman at 11 a.m., with the US Marine Corps Band playing “Hail to the Chief.”

The Presidential dedication marked the high point of a celebratory week of special events including concerts, exhibitions, special flights for handicapped children, aviation movies, and fashion models posing on the tarmac, wearing “Fashions for Flight.”

In his welcoming speech, Mayor D’Alesandro listed Friendship’s virtues: Miraculous engineering, planning, and governmental cooperation; an ideal location just 10 miles from Baltimore and 30 miles from Washington DC along a new super highway; and–not insignificantly–the lowest incidence of fog on the East Coast.

Planning for the 3,200 acre airfield complex in Anne Arundel County near Friendship Church began just after the end of World War II. Construction started in 1947. Originally owned by the City of Baltimore, the airport was purchased by the State of Maryland, through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), in 1972 for $36 million.

The original white, cuboid terminal building, designed by James R. Edmunds, encompassed more than an acre of interior floor space and cost $3,724,000. The nine-story control tower–the highest in the country—dominated the building.

Inside, a fancy restaurant, cocktail lounge, conference rooms, game rooms with pin ball and slot machines, a children’s nursery, barber and beauty shops, a bank, and a book store lined the terminal’s public spaces.

President Truman kept his speech short—just eight minutes. He spoke of Friendship as “…a symbol of what local government and the National Government can do when they plan together and work together for the improvement of the country.” He concluded by saying: “Now I dedicate this Friendship International Airport to the growth and development of our country. I dedicate this great airport to the cause of peace in the world.”

BWI Marshall Airport
Sixty years later, though the name changed twice, BWI Marshall has lived up to most of President Truman’s projections. This year, the Airports Council International ranked BWI Marshall as the best airport of its size (15 to 25 million passengers) in the world, based on the 2009 Airport Service Quality survey.

“Emphasis on customer service keeps the name ‘Friendship’ alive,” said Jonathan O. Dean, manager of the Maryland Aviation Administration’s Division of Communications.

In 2009, 20.95 million passengers used the airport, an increase of 2.3 percent over 2008, making BWI Marshall one of only two US airports to show any growth.

“It’s largely due to the strength of the marketplace,” said Dean. “We are convenient, customer-friendly, and easy to use. Additionally, we have the low fare gateways for Southwest and AirTran, and now Jet Blue…BWI Marshall offers among the lowest average air fares, frequently well below the national average.”

Making it even more accessible, BWI Marshall is the first US airport with a major rail station on the property. A continuous shuttle bus system directly connects railroad to airplane. Additionally, Light Rail connects the terminal with Baltimore, Timonium, and Hunt Valley, while the BWI Express Metrobus links to Washington DC’s Metro’s Green Line at the Greenbelt Metro Station.

Along with its role as a major air transportation hub, BWI Marshall has become a member of its neighborhood and an important resource for its community.

The 11-mile BWI Hiker-Biker Trail, circles the airport’s grounds and serves both commuters and recreational users. Much of the trail is surprising peaceful, and Andover Park, at the north side of the airport, provides a great overlook of the general aviation runway. A spur trail links to the terminal where a bike rack sits just outside of Concourse E, the Governor William Donald Schaefer International Terminal.

“We also have the Dixon Observation Area under 33 L(eft), a major commercial runway,” added Dean. “Friendship had a great outdoor observation area on the roof. People could see all of the aircraft operations. That’s no longer feasible, but the current airport has an indoor observation gallery, aviation exhibits, and tribute space for Thurgood Marshall.”

When asked about celebrations to mark 60 years of service, Dean responded that any events will be “…low keyed and will not affect the flying public.”

Reed Hellman lives and writes Alberton, Maryland. Visit his website at, or e-mail your questions and comments to

Photos: Jonathan O. Dean, Maryland Aviation Administration


  1. baltimoregal 8 years ago

    I do love BWI. It’s the best airport I’ve ever been in, honestly.

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