January 8, 2010

Airport administration overspent millions on airline payments, tickets

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

The Maryland Aviation Administration, which runs BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, left over $2 million in federal funds on the table and spent nearly $8 million in incentive payments to British Airways without ensuring that the payments were properly calculated, according to state auditors.

The auditors’ report, released Friday, highlighted several problems with the way the aviation administration does business and found that employees bought tickets for international flights at unnecessarily high prices.

The aviation agency was denied $2.4 million in federal money because it had not fulfilled the requirements for the Federal Aviation Administration’s noise compatibility program, the report said. The agency sent FAA a plan to comply with the rules, but it still has not been reimbursed  for any of the money, some of it spent more than four years ago.

The auditors also questioned the administration’s specifications for purchasing an ambulance, which they said favored one vendor. The specifications mirrored almost identically the language of the manufacturer’s descriptions of the emergency vehicle, leading to only one bid response to the agency’s solicitation.

“On the surface these seem pretty egregious; we can’t let these things happen,” said Sen. James “Ed” DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, chair of the public safety, transportation and environment budget subcommittee, which reviews the Maryland Aviation Administration’s funding. He had not yet seen the report but said the administration would have to explain itself in budget hearings.

“We certainly will be raising these issues,” DeGrange said.

The report recommended that the administration establish procedures to ensure the propriety of the incentive payments they make to British Airways and that it buy airline tickets in a more cost-effective way. The auditors also asked for an investigation into the purchase of the ambulance, in conjunction with the attorney general’s office.

In its response to the audit, the Maryland Aviation Administration said that it is waiting for FAA approval of their noise compatibility plan, and will be working with the FAA to secure reimbursement as the money becomes available. Additionally, the administration said it had already established adequate measures to ensure the propriety of payments.

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said that the attorney general’s office is already reviewing the purchase of the ambulance in question, and that the administration “has established additional procedures to ensure that procurement specifications are drafted independently.”