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Pittsburgh International Airport remains powerhouse for region

Pittsburgh International Airport remains a major economic engine for the region, directly and indirectly supporting 71,000 jobs that last year pumped $5.7 billion into the economy, airport officials said Friday.

But the airport supported almost 24,000 fewer jobs than it did in 2000, resulting in an inflation-adjusted $1.1 billion in reduced economic activity, according to airport data.

Beyond the overall losses, airport jobs pay less, on average, than they did at the start of the decade. Yet, the cost of doing business is up for some companies because flight cuts have lengthened business trips to cities that once had nonstop service from Pittsburgh, a local airline industry analyst said.

"It's hard to compare the two sets of numbers," said Brad Penrod, executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, referring to economic analyses of the airport in 2000 and last year.

In 2000, Pittsburgh International was a bustling US Airways hub, with 20 million passengers and 615 daily flights to 114 destinations. Today, no longer a hub, Pittsburgh has 150 daily flights to 38 destinations and is expected to finish the year with 8.1 million passengers, a record-low for the 17-year-old airport.

Low-cost carriers flocked to Pittsburgh after the hub closed, resulting in cheaper fares. But thousands of jobs were lost with the hundreds of flights, including ones at former pilot and flight-attendant bases and a large reservations center. US Airways' locally based employment alone fell from more than 12,000 at the start of the decade to about 2,000.

"Many of those (departing) jobs paid well," said Bill Lauer, a Sewickley-based airline industry analyst.

The authority paid the consulting firm Wilbur Smith Associates $67,800 to determine the economic impact of Pittsburgh International and the Allegheny County Airport.

Wilbur Smith, which also did the 2000 study, looked at economic activity tied directly to the airports, including military installations near Pittsburgh International and business park companies on authority property. The firm analyzed indirect employment at restaurants, hotels and other businesses supporting the airports.

According to last year's study, released Friday, Pittsburgh International directly and indirectly supported 71,160 jobs with wages totaling $2.1 billion, or $29,511 per job, and had an overall economic impact of $5.7 billion. Direct, on-airport employment totaled 12,100 jobs with combined wages of $540.2 million, or $44,645 per job.

Authority Chairman Glenn R. Mahone said the airport's direct employment "means Pittsburgh International Airport has the fifth-highest number of employees in the Pittsburgh metro area." Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny could not identify the other four.

Still, the 2000 study showed that the 94,800 jobs directly and indirectly supported by Pittsburgh International generated an inflation-adjusted $3.4 billion in wages, or $35,610 per job, and $6.8 billion in overall economic activity. That study did not include data on direct, on-airport employment.

"It's obvious the airport is an absolutely critical component in the region's overall economy," Lauer said. "But in terms of high-paying jobs and the value of the airport ... the loss of (service offered from the hub operated by) US Airways was critical."

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