TEQ sat down with Paul Hoback, Allegheny County Airport Authority Senior Vice President of Engineering, Planning & Capital Development, to discuss how one of the region’s most ambitious building plans will reshape the future of Pittsburgh International Airport.
TEQ: What exactly is the Terminal Modernization Program?
Hoback: The Terminal Modernization Program (TMP) is a bold plan to transform Pittsburgh International into a modern, tech-forward, customer-focused facility. Momentum at the airport has been building – in just three years we have doubled our number of nonstop destinations from 37 to 74; we were one of the first U.S. airports to offer Uber and Lyft; and we are the first airport in the country to allow non-ticketed passengers access beyond the security checkpoint. This transformation comes at a key time as we continue to position Pittsburgh International as a global leader in aviation. This is the front door for our region. We want the updated terminal to reflect and advance all the growth and success of the airport along with our entire region. This will be Pittsburgh’s airport, and everyone will be able to say that proudly.
TEQ: How will the TMP improve Pittsburgh International Airport?
Hoback: We worked closely with our airline partners on the TMP, ,and they are supportive of the plan because it will ultimately reduce long-term maintenance costs—saving them money—and will benefit travelers by consolidating landside and airside functions. The updated design includes a new landside terminal adjacent to the current airside terminal, new roadways and parking garage, and eliminates the need for the airport train. The renovated terminal will feature modern check-in and security technology throughout, an improved baggage delivery system, expanded security checkpoint and streamlined international arrivals area. All of these improvements will help travelers get through security quicker, arrive at their gate sooner and collect their bags faster – which are the most common issues we hear about.
TEQ: How will the program benefit the Pittsburgh region?
Hoback: Pittsburgh International Airport is a tremendous economic engine for the region, contributing billions in business revenues, job creation and growth opportunities. The TMP is expected to create over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, while also generating $1.66 billion in economic activity. We anticipate the program will also produce over $28 million in state and local income taxes. Additionally, the TMP will provide the opportunity for more airport concession space along with developable land that could generate additional economic opportunities, particularly in relation to development of the Shell cracker facility just a few miles north of the airport.
TEQ: Could the revamped airport attract more airlines or increase the number of nonstop flights offered?
Hoback: The program is designed to allow for growth by providing a more efficient and cost-effective terminal facility. The updated facility will reduce operating costs, which will result in a lower Cost per Enplanement (CPE) for airlines. The airlines recognize that major changes and upgrades are needed. The choice isn’t between this plan and doing nothing; the choice is between this plan or dumping a large sum of money into an old facility for renovation. Airlines recognize that the current configuration was built for an airline that no longer exists for a hub structure that is gone. Cost savings will be realized from a number of areas, including costly conveyances (elevators, escalators, moving walkways, trains) that must be maintained. Remember, the airport is 26 years old, and most of these systems have reached the end of their useful lives. Not to mention, with the advent of smartphones and new technology, check-in and ticketing procedures are very different than when the airport opened in 1992.
TEQ: What if a major airline wanted to make Pittsburgh International a hub airport again?
Hoback: While research and passenger forecasts indicate the airport will never be a hub again, the TMP design allows for expansion if forecasts are exceeded, (or if a major company locates its second headquarters here, wink, wink!). The plan includes more operational gates (51) than the 35-40 which are currently used today. The new design format incorporates a common-use concept that will provide more flexibility in gate and other systems’ usage by multiple air carriers. With the TMP, fewer gates will provide the potential for a higher number of air carriers to utilize the gates more efficiently. Instead of the airport becoming a “smaller” facility, the updated design will instead create a “smarter,” more efficient facility. Currently, vast areas of the airport are unused, gates are empty and the facility feels too big for current usage, which has also been noted by travelers.
TEQ: When will the new building be constructed, and will the construction process interfere with the passenger experience?
Hoback: We expect to break ground on the TMP in late 2019 with anticipated completion in 2023. During this time, passengers will continue to use the current landside terminal building and train. There should be no real change in the passenger experience during the construction process. We’re excited about how this modernization program will transform Pittsburgh International for the future, and we look forward to continuing to work with partners in the community as it takes shape over the next five years.