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North Hills Monthly

Pittsburgh International Airport Seeing Rise in Passengers, Nonstop routes

Jun 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Vanessa Orr

A lot has changed at the Pittsburgh International Airport in the last few years, and happily for those who want to travel cross-country or across the world, there are even more changes on the horizon.

The airport has undergone such a transformation, in fact, that in 2017 it was named Airport of the Year by Air Transport World, a trade publication for the airport industry. “ATW has been giving awards for 40 years for best in class, and four years ago began an airport category,” explained Bob Kerlik, vice president, Media Relations, Allegheny County Airport Authority. “The first three years, the winners were Singapore, London and Hong Kong; we are the first U.S. airport to win. 

“They told us that they don’t normally choose airports like ours but we’d made such an amazing turnaround that they thought we were deserving,” he added. “It’s a huge honor; it shows how much progress we’ve made.”

Less than three years ago, Pittsburgh International had 37 nonstop destinations; today, it boasts 68—more than an 80 percent increase. The airport has added eight new carriers, including domestic carriers Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, and international carriers WOW Air, which flies into Iceland, Condor, which offers nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany, and Porter Airlines to Toronto. OneJet, which features seven-seat jets for business travelers, flies to seven nonstop destinations. 

The airport has also seen an increase in passengers. “In 2013, when we had 37 nonstop destinations—the lowest that the airport ever had—we had dipped to 7.8 million passengers,” said Kerlik. “In three short years, we’ve seen those numbers rise; in 2014, we had a 1.5 percent increase in passengers, in 2015, a 1.6 percent increase, and in 2016, a 2.2 percent increase. 

“We’re already up 4 percent through March of 2017, and we expect to see that number continue to rise this year,” he added. In 2016, the airport transported 8.3 million passengers; its highest since 2008.

Kerlik credits this amazing turnaround to a number of factors. In January 2015, the airport hired a new CEO, Christina Cassotis, who had previously worked for 16 years at an aviation consulting company focusing on increasing air service at airports around the globe. “She brought new leadership and vision to the position and is very good at focusing everyone on the same task,” said Kerlik. 

The airport’s development staff became more aggressive in selling Pittsburgh and the region to the airlines and in building community partnerships. “We work closely with VisitPittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Pittsburgh Technology Council to demonstrate to airlines that there is a strong case to establish air service here,” said Kerlik. “Our partners are key in this.”

The airport also made a new commitment to rebuilding the regional service network that was lost when USAir dismantled its hub. Southern Airways now provides essential air service to smaller markets such as Morgantown, WV, Jamestown, NY, Johnstown, PA, and Altoona, PA, among others. It also flies into Harrisburg. OneJet provides service to a number of medium-sized markets, including Cincinnati, OH, Indianapolis, IN, Milwaukee, WI, Louisville, KY, Hartford, CT and Richmond, VA. The airline will soon be adding flights to Albany, NY. 

On May 25, Spirit Airlines helped add to the airport’s nationwide reach, offering nonstop service to seven destinations including Los Angeles, CA, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX,  Houston, TX, Myrtle Beach, SC, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, NV.

The airport is focused on adding more nonstop flights to the West Coast as well. Spirit and Southwest Airlines currently fly to Los Angles International, and United Airlines flies to San Francisco 10 months of the year. “We would like to add more points on the West Coast, including to Seattle and the Bay Area,” said Kerlik. “This continues to be a priority.”

International service has taken off, with WOW Air beginning nonstop flights to Iceland on June 16, and Condor offering nonstop flights to Frankfurt beginning June 23. Condor’s season will run June-August, and WOW will operate year-round.

“The Delta to Paris flight is also back for its ninth year, running May through September,” added Kerlik. 

Not only do these new routes give passengers more options, but the addition of new carriers is making it less expensive to fly. “Any time you have competition, prices come down,” said Kerlik. “Both WOW and Condor have very reasonably priced flights to Europe; they offer lower fares than carriers that connect through New York, Atlanta or other large hubs.”

Facilities have been upgraded to handle the increased influx of passengers, including changes to the international arrivals process, adding a dedicated TSA pre-check line, improvements to the baggage area, new terrazzo floors in the center core of the airport, and the addition of The Strip Market in the food area, which carries locally made brands that you can buy while in Pittsburgh. 

Even with all of these improvements, the airport is still looking to expand its air service portfolio. ”We’re talking to everyone who makes sense,” said Kerlik. “We’re not only considering additional carriers, but talking to our incumbent carriers about adding frequency and distribution. 

“A lot of airlines had an outdated view of what Pittsburgh was like, so we’re sharing the story of what’s going on here,” he added. “Pittsburgh is experiencing a regional renaissance, and the airport is a reflection of what’s happening in the city. We’re on the rise.”