Pittsburgh has unveiled plans for a new $1.1 billion renovation that will give the city’s resurgent airport a new passenger terminal.
The new two-story terminal, projected to open in 2023, features an undulating roof that designers say is meant to mimic the region’s rolling hills.
The design for the new terminal was handled by architect Luis Vidal, who also designed the recently opened “T2” at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Pittsburgh officials say the new terminal will speed flyers’ trips through the airport by consolidating check-in, ticketing, security and baggage claim “into one connected facility.” Currently, a people-mover tram is needed to funnel passengers between gate areas and check-in, baggage claim and security. The new terminal will replace the existing “landside” building, essentially filling in an empty area that currently exists between the gate areas and the airport’s entrance.
Departing passengers will go through the new terminal’s upper level while arriving passengers will move through the lower level as they make their way from their gates to baggage claim and the airport’s exit.
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The airport released images of the new plan, but said it will “continue to be refined over the next phase of the project …, which is expected to run through summer 2019.”
It’s all part of a major makeover for the airport, which was revolutionary when it opened in 1992. Since then, however, Pittsburgh International has become suboptimal for the city’s modern-day needs.
The current design was built almost exclusively to specifications called for by US Airways, which at the time used Pittsburgh as a major connecting hub that ranked among the nation’s busiest. The airport’s four passenger concourses were laid out like an “X,” giving connecting fliers a relatively short walk between gates – no matter which concourse they arrived to and departed from.
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At the center of the “X” was the Airmall, a mall-like operation in the airside terminal. It offered robust food and retail options and promised “street pricing.” Though the concept has been widely emulated since, it was an untested concept for U.S. airports when it debuted in 1992. The new terminal proved popular among flyers, both local and connecting.
But US Airways – now part of American Airlines – ran into financial turbulence from the late 1990s into the 2000s, undergoing multiple bankruptcies amid a prolonged struggle to survive. In 2004, US Airways formally “de-hubbed” Pittsburgh, the first move in its decade-long downsizing there that pared hundreds of flights from the airport’s schedule.
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A steep decline in passenger numbers followed, leading to difficult times for the airport. Officials there even went so far as to wall off the ends of some of the concourses as passenger counts dwindled, allowing the airport to save money by shutting off utilities at the shuttered gate areas.
Pittsburgh’s airport has found new life this decade, transitioning from the hub it once was to an airport now focused on “local” traffic specifically flying to or from Pittsburgh itself.
Low-cost carriers Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant have expanded to Pittsburgh while Southwest has grown its presence there. Other new carriers include Alaska Airlines, which now flies nonstop to Seattle.
The airport also has benefited from the leadership of ambitious new CEO Christina Cassotis, who’s managed to return some swagger to the airport.
Now, the new terminal would continue Pittsburgh’s momentum as the airport shifts from a hub to one focused on local passengers.
“We want to build a Pittsburgh airport. We’ve seen what a US Airways airport looks like,” Cassotis told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the new plans were unveiled.
“This is really the last piece of the puzzle for Pittsburgh’s renaissance,” she added to the paper, which ran its story under an online headline reading: “A US Airways airport no more? New vision for ‘a Pittsburgh airport’ unveiled.”
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