Editorial: Is a new PIT terminal a $1 billion bargain?
The designs for a new Pittsburgh International Airport terminal are beautiful.
They are filled with light pouring in through huge windows. There are ceilings high enough to park an airliner in the concourse. There is enough greenery to give you the feeling you are visiting Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It’s practically a walk in the park…but not a long walk. Efforts have been made at making your airport jaunt as easy as possible, the designer assures.
But is it really necessary?
The $1.1 billion overhaul of the landside terminal — to be paid by bonds and airline revenue — has been two years in the designing and would be four years more in the execution. Rehab is set to start with the airside terminal this year, and when finished, the two would form one structure.
Admittedly, the terminal is getting a little long in the tooth. The current incarnation was unveiled in 1992, with a design the New York Times then heralded as the “airport of the future.” The future apparently needs an update.
But recent attempts to subsidize carriers to provide new and different routes have sputtered and stalled. The Allegheny Airport Authority filed suit against OneJet after service collapsed, seeking to recover $763,000 of the $1 million laid out in gambling funds for the launch of 10 routes when only two came to pass. OneJet has since filed bankruptcy.
Then there were more subsidies to British Airways, WOW Air and Condor, all for European routes, that was followed by Delta announcing it was pulling back on its own Paris connections from Pittsburgh because of competition.
PIT traffic is up now, according to the authority, with 2018 a 12-year high. That clearly does merit investment to spur the growth. It’s just a question of how much is a good business risk, and how much is about keeping up with the Joneses.
Tampa is in the midst of a $1 billion project, and Phoenix just renovated a terminal. Conde Nast puts both in the top ten best airports, along with Baltimore-Washington International — where you can rent bikes — and Portland — which has a free movie theatre.
Being on that list would be great, just like it was when PNC Park was named among the country’s best ballparks, but we must remember that having a great park still hasn’t brought home a World Series. People will fly here for the destination, not the terminal.