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Cut airline fees will draw flights to Pittsburgh International in time, congressman says

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Federal and county officials said on Monday that reduced airline fees at Pittsburgh International Airport will take time to attract flights, but will make the airport more competitive.

“I believe that over time, more flights will be here. You have to give it time. The airlines want to see what's going to happen. They want to see it's for real,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Shuster was one of six Pennsylvania congressmen who attended an event at the airport in which County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that airline fees at Pittsburgh International will drop, reducing the airlines' average cost per passenger by 3.8 percent, or 55 cents, to $14.11.

That is almost double the $7.33 median for airports rated by Moody's Investors Service. Pittsburgh's largest carriers, US Airways and Southwest Airlines, said last week they have no plans to add flights.

Airport Authority officials on July 1 began using part of the $46.3 million in upfront money the authority got from Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. to lease 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.

“It's all part of a comprehensive package. Certainly, the airlines said that our fees are higher than the average and this is part of bringing those in line,” Fitzgerald said. “We never expected the (drilling money) would be a panacea.”

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.

Consol President Nicholas DeIuliis said the public will be able to follow drilling updates on the company's and the airport's websites within a few weeks. Drilling is expected to start in about a year, he said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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