Consolidation key to Pittsburgh Airport revamp, growth


Pittsburgh is set to reinvent its airport, launching a $1.1bn renovation plan this week. The new design presents a better passenger experience for local travelers, a significant and necessary upgrade given the current design’s origins as a hub operation for US Airways. Construction is set to begin in 2019 and complete in 2023.

We are excited to make this Pittsburgh’s airport – a facility that is optimized for the needs of the local passenger and today’s aviation environment. This facility gives us the ability to truly make this the gateway to our region and continues our ascent as industry leaders. This is about being much more operationally efficient with a technology focus to position us for the future. – Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO.

The new Pittsburgh Airport will bring the land-side terminal and parking up to the gate area, significantly easing flow for local passengers
The new Pittsburgh Airport will bring the land-side terminal and parking up to the gate area, significantly easing flow for local passengers


Read More: Dear Midwest America: Welcome to Europe

The current airport design is, at best, challenging for local passengers. The security checkpoint is undersized and a train ride is required to get to the gate area. The new layout brings a new and larger check-in area right up to the gates, removing many of those challenges. It also lowers operating costs by consolidating services into a common structure. Parking gets closer to the gates, as does a new consolidated rental car facility. It is uncommon to see taxiway and gate space pulled away in favor of other infrastructure but for Pittsburgh that’s exactly what will happen and what the airport needs.

Pittsburgh is not alone in undertaking a major renovation project. Denver and Nashville also recently pushed forward with similar efforts. Nashville is pumping $1.2bn into its airport and, similar to Pittsburgh, is committing significantly to improved international travel facilities. Plus, the cities are investing in international travel beyond just the airport buildings. Both Nashville and Pittsburgh also attracted new Transatlantic service, launching in 2018, thanks to local funding commitments. Building an airport to match the desired service levels increases the odds of more such flights developing.

A rendering of the proposed Pittsburgh Airport interior once renovations complete in 2023.
A rendering of the proposed Pittsburgh Airport interior once renovations complete in 2023.

Read More: Nashville goes big with BNA airport expansion plans



Denver’s effort is somewhat different, focused more on the airside concourse and adjusting concessions facilities. It also saw significant pushback from airlines, though the project was eventually approved. Pittsburgh highlighted its efforts to keep airlines included in the project planning stages and to “keep airline costs stable and maintain the authority’s commitment to cost competitiveness.”

Read More: Airlines don’t like Denver’s $1.3 billion upgrade plan

The new Pittsburgh airport will have 51 gates, more than are in service today. That seems optimistic given the current underutilization of the facilities, but keeping potential growth in mind is not a terrible idea. Airlines are experimenting more and more with increasing point-to-point services rather than funneling all traffic through a hub. Particularly in the transatlantic market this presents interesting opportunities for secondary city airports such as Pittsburgh. And passenger numbers at the airport are up year-over-year, which is a promising trend.

With next generation aircraft such as the A321LR coming online expectations are that more such services will cross borders and Pittsburgh is well positioned for flights into Western Europe or Northern South America. One challenge the city faces is reversing a population slide. The good news is that most growth is in the area around the airport and work is underway to boost the metro area. But that takes time and airlines are notoriously fickle when it comes to supporting soft markets.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.


Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

10 Comments

  1. The main thing hurting the airport is transit to the downtown, tech, and medical corridor. The city really needs to figure out a solution, whether it’s extending current busways or not to allow faster bus rapid transit. It takes an hour from Oakland (the area of the city with the most employment) and 45 from downtown. I don’t think the city is getting Amazon’s HQ2, but glad they put this out now as something they’re already doing rather than something just to tempt one company to come.

    1. I know you’re local so more in tune with the specific nuance, but I’ve read that the corridor towards the airport is growing decently. Maybe that helps. Also, infrastructure is a long play. Maybe this ends up being a waste of a billion dollars, but they’ve gotta do something. The existing terminal just doesn’t work in an environment where the airport is no longer a hub.

      1. It is growing and one of the positive aspects of having the airport so far from the major areas of the city is room to grow around it. However, the downtown and east end of the city have become established so there’s still a transportation issue to the airport, particularly when the one parkway to the airport is backed up during rush hour what with all the bridges and tunnels. Other than the long TSA line for non-precheck passengers (which is helped by extended hours of the alternative line in the old commuter terminal), the passenger experience is fine. A lot of people like the train even though it’s a maintenance moneyhole for the airport, and there’s a lot of space due to many gates not being in use. It’s certainly a smart move for the airport and the airlines to get rid of that dead space between the landside and airside terminals (making moving passengers and baggage easier) and bringing everything to a standardized non-US Airways legacy system, but I can sense that they’re going to have to do a little more hard sell for the community. They’ve really done a lot of work to grow the airport in the past 3 years (last month was the first time I’ve seen the departure monitors filled with flights in 4 years), so they have goodwill capital to spend to show they know what they’re doing. It’s certainly been interesting to see the shift in just a few years.

  2. Eh, I think the airport works perfectly fine as is. The decor is a little 1990s, but the layout is reasonably functional and I’ve never had any major issues with security or the quick-and-fun train ride.

    The empty gates are a little depressing, but as a Pittsburgh resident, I have been holding out hope that maybe someone like Virgin Alaska ???? would take advantage of the cheap rent and open up an east-coast focus city here. Hey, I can dream!

  3. Eh, I think the airport works perfectly fine as is. The decor is a little 1990s, but the layout is reasonably functional and I’ve never had any major issues with security or the quick-and-fun train ride.

    The empty gates are a little depressing, but as a Pittsburgh resident, I have been holding out hope that maybe someone like Virgin Alaska ???? would take advantage of the cheap rent and open up an east-coast focus city here. Hey, I can dream!

  4. I don’t understand why – while Pittsburgh has experienced growth and is the exception to the rule, I think that there are better ways to spend $1b+ within the city’s infrastructure than on their already-good-enough airport. Perhaps demolish the bricked-off concourses and make a few improvements would be a better use of these funds…I dread what the airport fees will rise to with this….

Comments are closed.

BoardingArea