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Pittsburgh International Airport makeover takes lots of groundwork

Theresa Clift
| Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, 12:03 a.m.
A computer rendering of the atrium as viewed from the security checkpoint area of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
pittransformed.com
A computer rendering of the atrium as viewed from the security checkpoint area of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
A computer-rendered aerial view of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
pittransformed.com
A computer-rendered aerial view of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
A rendering of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport at night.
pittransformed.com
A rendering of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport at night.
A computer rendering of the departures curb of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
pittransformed.com
A computer rendering of the departures curb of the redesigned Pittsburgh International Airport.
Staff at Pittsburgh international Airport prepare to issue tickets to shoppers who want to visit Airside retailers Monday, Sept. 5, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Staff at Pittsburgh international Airport prepare to issue tickets to shoppers who want to visit Airside retailers Monday, Sept. 5, 2017.

Updated 2 hours ago

Pittsburgh International Airport's plan for a massive $1.1 billion makeover unveiled last week has been in the works for more than three years, but a lot of work remains before crews can break ground in 2019.

“We will spend next year in advanced planning and design,” Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said. “We've got to (award) a whole bunch of contracts, we've got to get a designer in here, an architect. We've got a lot of work to do.”

Most importantly, the project still hinges on several federal approvals.

The airport plans to file the master plan with the Federal Aviation Administration for approval around the end of the year, airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said.

The airport master plan, which is not yet finished, lays out all the details of the project and other long-term airport initiatives.

The FAA submittal will then kick off what could become an extensive process with the federal agency.

Once the FAA receives the plan, agency officials will review it and offer comments to the airport authority, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The authority will then revise the plans and return them to the FAA for follow-up reviews until all comments are addressed.

The process could take up to six months, Bergen said.

The airport also has to submit an environmental assessment to the FAA for approval, which it plans to file by March 2018, Kerlik said.

The amount of time the FAA typically takes to approve the environmental document varies based on complexity of the project and questions that arise, Bergen said.

Although the FAA approval process could be lengthy, William Lauer, the chief investment officer at Allegheny Capital in Downtown Pittsburgh, said he suspected approval would not be difficult.

“If the county authority determines to move on the proposal, I see no reason for federal regulators to object,” said Lauer, who has closely followed the airline industry for years.

The airport is paying Chicago-based aviation consulting firm Ricondo & Associates up to $7.6 million to help create the master plan — a contract that ends in August 2018, Kerlik said.

Meanwhile, the airport plans to hold public meetings in Alle­gheny County in the coming months, Kerlik said. At the meetings, residents will get a closer look at the plan, ask questions and provide feedback on features they'd like to see.

What's happened so far

When the master plan process started in April 2014, airport officials were focused on enhancing the existing facilities. In April 2015, two other options emerged — one to rebuild the airside terminal and another to rebuild the landside terminal, according to an airport presentation.

Airport officials held 25 meetings with representatives from 10 of the airport's passenger and cargo airlines: American, Southwest, United, Delta, JetBlue, Alle­giant, OneJet, Spirit, FedEx and UPS.

In March, the airlines requested that a fourth alternative be considered: replacing the airport's existing parking garage and improving the oversized international arrivals facility only.

Officials found that in the end, rebuilding the landside terminal would be the least expensive and allow for the biggest decrease in fees for the airlines: from $12.83 per passenger to $9.73 per passenger.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority voted Tuesday to build a new landside terminal between the C and D concourses of the existing airside terminals. The chosen option also calls for eliminating a tram and lengthy baggage conveyor belt system between the existing terminals, expanding the security checkpoint and building a new parking garage and roads. The current landside terminal could be redeveloped or torn down, while the airside terminal would be renovated and redesigned.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669 or tclift@tribweb.com.

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