Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is the Airport a Money Pit?

For all the griping about the North Shore Connector, how come no one gripes about the Pittsburgh "International" Airport. This money pit has been attempting to sink the county since 2001 when a series of unfortunate events finally conspired to yank the title of major airport hub from this mid-sized city airport. It was inevitable. Yet, in 1992, the airport was expanded??? After years of awful unemployment and folks leaving in droves, someone thought it'd be a great idea to expand this airport? At the time, the new airport buildings were "also being seen as a way to lift the economy." Talk about a boondoggle.

Nowadays, we've enticed (read: spent lots of money on) Delta to operate a non-stop flight to Paris and the powers-that-be have spent millions of dollars attempting to link this mediocre airport to the city instead of actually building a viable downtown to Oakland transit connection. If they were really concerned about inter-city travel, $1 Billion would have been much better spent on having more than one train per day to cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and New York.

Pittsburgh needs an airport, but *gasp* I agree with Onorato. Sell off the airport parking garages, make the airport solvent, and let's get the hell out of dodge.


Paz said...

It's our unfortunate history of tying ourselves too closely to one industry/company/next big thing.

While I don't want to see PIT become a dead airport, I am genuinely concerned about what it would look like in a world with more equitable train usage. If the model that most of us think is correct, and trains would replace airlines for mid-range destinations while passenger planes control the long-distance trips, then PIT and a bunch of other airports could be in trouble. If trains run as frequently and as fast as we want them to, Port of Columbus, Hopkins, and Philadelphia International will be a quick jaunt away, making getting the cheapest bargain at those airports easier. It would be interesting to see what kind of competitions would arise between regional airports. One thing is likely, PIT would be in an even worse position in that event if they can't quickly find a way to have a good connection to the train station downtown.

Infinonymous said...

The airport a money pit? For the average citizen, perhaps.

But for the politically connected who operate the financial revolving door that is local government -- elected officials, lawyers, parking lot operators, financial firms, campaign consultants, accountants, more lawyers -- it's a money party. Maybe the best in town.

This issue was mentioned briefly at a couple of county council meetings a few months ago. Citizens should hope the topic is addressed more substantively, and publicly, soon.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Agreed re parking lots. I'm coming around to that in term of the city too even if it doesn't save everything.

In re globalism, pursue high speed transit with New York and maybe DC like we're mountain climbing and we just slipped off the mountain.

Infinonymous said...

A good transit connection to the train and intercity bus stations exists -- Penn Station, part of the downtown T system -- but it is inactive. Spines to Oakland, the airport, the North Hills and the Alle-Kiski Valley would be great.

Paz said...

Infinonymous, the question becomes what is the most pressing project? I'm not certain we have the political capital (or willpower) as a region to do all four at once.

Infinonymous said...

I do not know which project would be the highest priority, and am not qualified to make that determination.

We could conduct a thorough study, with public hearings, proper research and expert analysis.

Or, I suppose we could rely on our elected officials' best judgment regarding which project would generate the most profit for their friends and campaign contributors.

Or, perhaps most likely, we could spend the money on another sports venue, a tunnel under the Mon, or a huge addition to the convention center.

Lady Elaine said...

I have never heard of the airport being a money pit. What I have heard of is companies like US Airways bullying us, then taking away jobs after we give them everything.

What I would like to see is an active recruitment of airlines to come to Pittsburgh. Onorato did a great job with Southwest, et al. And with the Obama Administration making love with Pittsburgh, I hope to see the sky mall opened to the general public. It most certainly can be done.

I do not see the privitization of the parking lots or anything for that matter making any more money or working any more smoothly than what the government can already do (i.e., medicare).

Our airport has consistently been ranked among the nations best and nicest airports to come to. Why would we want to screw with that?


East Busway Blogger said...

I understand what you're saying about sinking money into a shell of an airport.

However, hindsight is 20/20 and I can't fault the county for building the "new" airport. It was an attempt to keep their hometown airline happy, and at the time it made sense (US Airways employed 12,000 at their height in Pittsburgh).

Was it short sited? Obviously as history has proven, but in 1992 the political climate was much different than it is today. The county felt a new terminal was a true investment in a time when airline travel was more dominant than it is today. Additionally, in 1992 a $1 billion investment in rail or transit expansion would have been decried as the greatest waste of tax dollars in county history.

In a sense, Pittsburgh is a leader once again. A leader in airport decline. I think you will see this trend continue among mid size city airports that also act as hubs. As low cost carriers expand and (hopefully) rail service re-expands, you will see a similar trend at other airports that you saw in Pittsburgh.

Citizen Kane said...

At least in Pittsburgh you had the hub as an excuse; Indianapolis spent a billion dollars without having a hub, without the prospect of getting a hub or any other pretense (substantive reason in their mind).

Well, let me back up, we do have a substantial convention (according to others) and tourism industry (four percent of GDP) that with our convention center expansion will surely draw in millions of additional travelers - not.