The British are coming – back.
British Airways announced Wednesday that it will resume nonstop service from Pittsburgh to London Heathrow next year, 20 years after the airline departed the region.
During a celebratory press conference, airline officials said Pittsburgh’s dramatic turnaround and diversified economy drew them back and spurred them to launch nonstop service.
“It’s a real barometer of where Pittsburgh is as a city,” said Simon Brooks, British Airways’ senior vice president for North America. “What we see is a thriving city with sustained growth. I’m talking over the last five to 10 years. We know this place is really happening now. It’s just taking off.”
Brooks said the decision to pick Pittsburgh as the next best market was based on many factors.
“This is really an exciting time for British Airways ourselves. We have a lot of new aircraft being delivered this year and many more next year so we’re looking for new destinations and new partners (and) Pittsburgh is perfect for that.
“With so many different industry sectors – there is health care, tech, manufacturing, the amount of universities you have here and the exchange programs – so many compelling reasons for us to fly here. We’re so excited,” Brooks said.
The flight will start April 2 and operate four days a week – Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays – with the flight departing from London Heathrow at 5 p.m. and landing in Pittsburgh at 8:15 p.m., local times. The flight will depart Pittsburgh at 10 p.m., arriving at Heathrow at 10:35 a.m. the following day.
The route will feature one of the newest aircraft in British Airways’ fleet, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The plane will feature 214 seats in a three-class configuration.
Industry experts applauded the announcement.
“Look, this is the crown jewel in (PIT’s) route portfolio,” said Bill Swelbar, research engineer with MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation. “It’s an enormous win for Pittsburgh and the region. Not only did you get BA, it’s Heathrow and all the connections that come with it.
“It opens many doors to many more strategic markets around the globe for Pittsburgh. London is the largest (European) market for virtually every city across the country; that’s what makes everyone covet London, to be able satisfy market demand, not only with the nonstop but with one-stop access to many points around the globe.”
As part of the deal, the airline will receive a $3 million incentive over two years, in line with what other North American cities including New Orleans (more than $4 million) and Nashville ($3 million), have offered, according to published reports. The route will complement the airport’s seasonal service to Paris on Delta and to Frankfurt on Condor, as well as year-round service to Reykjavik on WOW air.
British Airways flew daily between Heathrow and Pittsburgh via Washington from May 13, 1986, until June 1993, when it moved its service to Gatwick. The airline operated that route with a daily service until Oct. 31, 1999.
Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis said the announcement was the product of 3½ years of work.
“London was the first international visit I made as CEO – within two months of starting,” Cassotis said. “Thank you to British Airways for selecting Pittsburgh and recognizing that our region is back.”
See photos from Wednesday’s news conference HERE.