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.
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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.
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.”
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.
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