Last updated on March 23, 2020.
The fallout from the coronavirus outbreak is having a crippling effect on the aviation industry, with dramatic reductions in air travel, and more likely to come in the near future.
But at Pittsburgh International, the airport may actually appear to be busier—at least, on the outside.
As airlines experience a decrease in passengers, including many flight cancellations due to the pandemic, PIT’s airport operations team is working with airline officials to reposition some of their aircraft not currently in use.
Over the past week, American Airlines has ferried five of its Airbus A330 aircraft to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
A wide-body plane with nearly 300 seats, the A330 has been used to operate both international and domestic routes, including transatlantic flights to popular European destinations. American has announced sizeable reductions in its international flights, meaning that some of its fleet, like the A330s currently parked in Pittsburgh, will not be flying.
Because of the airport’s location, size, runway lengths and equipment, Pittsburgh International has become an ideal location for diverted aircraft, and in this case, for aircraft currently not in use because of reduced travel demand.
Patrick Carreno, Vice President of Airport Operations for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates PIT, explained that airlines, including American, likely can’t accommodate all of the aircraft they are grounding at hub airports like Charlotte and Philadelphia.
“Basically, they’re looking at outstations, particularly Pittsburgh International, where we have large amounts of property,” Carreno said. “We have a big airfield for potential options of parking aircraft for the airlines in the short term.”
The temporarily grounded planes are likely those that aren’t typically parked for extended periods of time, he said. That’s why many hub airports don’t have the capacity to host them.
The aircraft are currently parked in several locations around the airfield, including a taxiway and a deicing pad.
In addition to the A330s, Carreno said other airlines have made inquiries about potentially repositioning some of their fleets at PIT.
“We are currently evaluating which surfaces we have available, which could include possibly closing taxiways and runways that are currently underutilized at this time,” Carreno said. “We want to make sure that we continue to operate the airfield efficiently. We’re also making sure that any paved areas that could be used are being swept and prepared to have aircraft parked at these locations.”
Temporarily grounding aircraft is just one way airlines are responding to the decrease in travel demand due to coronavirus.
American announced in a message to its employees that it will ground its fleet of remaining Boeing 757s and Boeing 767s—50 aircraft in total—in an effort to accelerate the retirement of both types of aircraft. According to the statement, the decision to accelerate the retirement of parts of its fleet will help remove older and less fuel-efficient planes and avoid unnecessary maintenance and fuel costs.
As news surrounding travel restrictions continues to evolve, airport operations crews at Pittsburgh International Airport continue to work with the airlines while maintaining regular operations.
“Our changes will vary based on the way the airlines are operating,” Carreno said. “It doesn’t change the core of our job, which is maintaining airport operations, with safety and security being our top priorities.
“We want to stay ahead of the game and put our best foot forward to best accommodate airlines and passengers for what they need right now.”