Eighty-eight years after its opening, Allegheny County Airport still looks quite the same – and continues to be one of the busiest airports in Pennsylvania.
The General Aviation airport located about nine miles from Downtown Pittsburgh in West Mifflin, Pa. still features a unique, vintage Art Deco design, reflecting the popular architectural style of the 1930s, when it opened.
Changes are coming, though.
Last week, the Allegheny County Airport Authority board approved $900,000 in contracts related to an interior renovation project for the airport. Most of the funding will come through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The county airport serves as the primary FAA-designated reliever airport for Pittsburgh International Airport, meaning that it helps to support PIT by accommodating business and corporate-related air traffic. Currently, the airport handles nearly 60,000 annual operations, such as corporate aircraft, general aviation pilots and local military aircraft.
“General aviation is tremendously important,” said Traci Clark, vice president of Allegheny County Airport. “[We’re] the sixth busiest airport in the state, and we’re helping to accommodate aircraft that would otherwise be taking off and landing at Pittsburgh International. We’re relieving possible congestion and delays at PIT, and we’re also supporting air rescue, helicopters, and a flight school.”
The interior rehab will feature improvements to the restrooms and renovations to existing rooms within the terminal, among other efforts to modernize the airport’s interior and increase operational efficiency.
In addition to the interior renovation project, slated to begin this fall, the airport has submitted the latest draft of its Master Plan Update to the FAA for review. Airport officials studied the airport’s existing conditions, future operational projections and facility requirements, as well as environmental impact and land usage.
(Numbers represent takeoffs and landings per year)
Typically, airports submit a Master Plan Update to the FAA once every 10 years, according to Eric Buncher, manager of planning services, who helped draft the document. Airport officials began the Master Plan process in 2017.
“The FAA is a major investor in the infrastructure of all the airports that make up our national aviation network through capital grants funded from federal aviation system fees and taxes,” said Buncher. “The FAA requires a logical plan for development of the airport before projects will be eligible for these federal aviation capital grants, and they want to be able to refer to it to make sure the operating agency is following it. That means we have to take into account the state of the airport that exists and its projection for growth in operations and be able to accommodate that growth.”
The Airport Master Plan Update projects steady growth at the airport over the next 18 years. By 2037, airport officials are anticipating an 8.2 percent increase in total operations.
“The general aviation industry is growing and we are expecting growth in our operations over the next two decades,” said Clark. “We need to make sure that we have the correct infrastructure in place to ensure safety and also to ensure that we can accommodate the anticipated growth. This means investing in our facilities and modernizing to make it an industry-leading airport.”
Key improvements proposed in the plan include the expansion of Runway Safety Areas, or RSAs. RSAs are additional land at the end of a runway that provide safety margins for arriving and departing aircraft and help save lives by minimizing potential damage to aircraft in incidents involving undershooting, overshooting or excursions from the runway.
Pending final approval from the FAA, the new Airport Layout Plan will also include demolishing five existing buildings and constructing six new hangars.
A public meeting to review the Master Plan Update was held at Allegheny County Airport in December 2018, and a 30-day public review and comment period will be held in October. Airport officials expect to receive approval from the FAA on the draft by the end of 2019.