Retirees Recall a Different Era of Aviation

Staffers with more than 400 combined years of experience given grand farewell

By Bob Kerlik

Published May 28, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


When Ted Feitt started at Greater Pittsburgh International as a stationary engineer in his early 20s, most of the planes were propeller-driven taildraggers – jets were few and far between.

“And the passengers, you didn’t wear jeans with holes in them and a T-shirt to fly then,” Feitt, 73, recalled. “Back then you’d think (passengers) were just coming from church the way they dressed.”

Feitt, who has worked for the airport – first Greater Pitt and now Pittsburgh International – for 47 years, retired last week along with 14 of his colleagues.

Stationary engineer Ted Feitt listens as CEO Christina Cassotis speaks to retirees at a small outdoor reception held as part of the airport’s retirement celebration on May 27. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

As part of the sendoff, Airport Authority officials threw a socially distanced retirement party for the staffers, who had a combined total of more than 400 years of airport service. The celebration included a parade of heavy equipment vehicles – some typically seen only during snowstorms – and a water cannon salute.

“I started as a laborer and worked my way up. I was 17 when I started. I’m 62 now,” said Red Givvin, Assistant Superintendent of Field Maintenance, who has worked at the airport for more than 42 years. “I’ve seen a lot of change and a lot of different things.”

When Givvin started, the technology behind snow removal was a lot less technical.

“When I first started, we pushed the snow off a runway with a plow, threw sand on it and planes landed behind you. Now there’s times, a friction test reading – everything is a lot more technical,” he said. “We used to ride down the runway and slam on our brakes to say if it was good or bad (measured with) a decelerometer.”

Tom Duncan, 62, started as an electronics technician two weeks before Pittsburgh International Airport opened in 1992. He retired as an electronics supervisor.

“I helped move some of the stuff over to the current airport in my first two weeks,” Duncan recalled. “I guess the biggest change is the obsolescence of so many of the systems. Our job has really changed.”

Many of the retirees noted their own part in PIT’s journey, from the buildup into a USAir hub, the hub takedown and the recovery and growth in the past five years. Many were on the job when Flight 427 crashed in 1994, and on Sept. 11, 2001.

A parade honors retirees Jim Cepec and Bob Parnell at Allegheny County Airport on Thursday, May 28. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

“I was here that evening when 427 went down. It was a pretty chaotic situation,” Duncan said. “We were part of the first responding because we had to set up the command post. I didn’t get up on the crash site, but I was in what I guess you would call the war room. It was pretty intense.”

The retirees said they appreciated their time at the airport because every day was different but were looking forward to doing things they normally wouldn’t have time for like fishing, hiking and spending time with family.

“A retiree called me a little bit ago and said, ‘Don’t forget now, throw your wristwatch away and every day is Saturday,’” Feitt said, laughing.

Click here to see more photos from the celebrations.

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