Shale gas drilling helps Pittsburgh airport reduce fees again
Money from a Marcellus shale drilling deal at Pittsburgh International Airport is fueling a second decrease this year in fees airlines pay to use the airport although county officials acknowledged the move may take time to attract more flights.
The Airport Authority is expected to approve the plan to cut the airlines' average cost per passenger by about 1.4 percent, or 19 cents, to $13.92 at its meeting Thursday. The decrease will make the airport more competitive and closer to the national average, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Wednesday.
“The budget is dependent on airport revenues, how many flights, other revenues like parking, concessions,” Fitzgerald said. “Every airport is different. Us and some other airports are in a bad spot because we have the costs of a hub without the revenues of a hub.”
The median rate for airports is $7.33, according to Moody's Investors Service. Pittsburgh International began the year with fees at $14.66 per passenger but lowered them to $14.11 in July. Moody's upgraded the authority's bond rating earlier this year, citing the gas drilling revenue.
Todd Lehmacher, spokesman for US Airways, Pittsburgh's largest carrier, said the decrease won't result in immediate added flights, saying the schedule remains unchanged. He declined to say if the lower gate fees would result in lower ticket prices.
“It's important that fees are competitive in an industry that has such high fixed costs. We applaud the airport authority for lowering those,” Lehmacher said. “It's something we're very mindful of.”
Southwest Airlines, the airport's second-largest carrier did not return a call for comment. The airline said in July it did not have plans to add flights.
Airport Authority officials on July 1 began using part of the $46.3 million in advance payments the authority got from Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. for natural gas drilling rights on the airport's 9,263 acres. The drilling deal, which officials finalized in February, could generate about $500 million for the airport authority, based on county estimates.
Pittsburgh served about 8 million passengers last year, down from 8.7 million in 2008 before the recession began and from 19.8 million in 2000, when the airport served as a bustling hub for US Airways.
Separately, the AirMall at the airport announced Wednesday six new high-end stores will open between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The stores include Pinko, runway-inspired clothing from Italy; Furla, leather and accessories known for Italian designs; Tumi, suitcases, briefcases and bags; Lacoste, the French apparel company which offers men's and women's clothes; Desigual, a Spanish brand known for its colorful women's clothes; and Collezioni — The Beauty Gallery, a store that offers fragrances, cosmetic and skincare brands.
The stores are part of a $10 million facelift the airport's center core is undergoing.
Airmall Vice President Jay Kruisselbrink said the stores will provide shoppers with unique stores not available elsewhere.
“Pinko, for example, that's its first U.S. store in the Airmall,” Kruisselbrink said. “It's fun. It's exciting. It's new and it's what the customer wants. The stores have a strong international flavor.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.