Airlines parked nearly 100 planes at Pittsburgh International Airport for several weeks beginning in March when the pandemic nearly brought the industry to a halt. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Staff Picks: Stories From a Year That Changed Aviation

We’ve covered a lot of ground (and air) this year – producing more than 200 stories and videos in 2020.

Along with offering a unique perspective of the pandemic, our stories have featured innovations helping to move our airport and industry forward, while also highlighting the latest happenings surrounding our airline and airport partners.

To celebrate the end of 2020, our Blue Sky News team picked their individual favorite stories of the year to share with you.

Thank you for following our coverage. We’re looking forward  to what’s next.

Re-Imagining PIT in a Post-Pandemic World 

By Alyson Walls, Director, Communications

Writing about the Terminal Modernization Program has long been a favorite topic of mine. TMP, as it’s known around here, was first announced in 2017 as an ambitious, billion-dollar-plus project ,to build a high-tech, modern new terminal and parking complex that improves the passenger experience and showcases the best of the Pittsburgh region. The pandemic halted construction and changed the program timeline, but it also led our experts and designers to reconsider the overall importance of public health and safety in airport facilities . Our team generated innovative ideas that are now being implemented in the terminal, like UV cleaning and a new handwashing station. This story explains how those ideas were developed and demonstrates the creative, collaborative thinking that has become a hallmark of Pittsburgh International Airport. Stay tuned for more modernization news in 2021 as we continue building a smarter airport.


Photos: Parked Planes Stack Up at U.S. Airports

By Beth Hollerich, Multimedia Specialist

It was eerily quiet on March 29, 2020. All I could hear was the subtle humming of jet engine turbines being turned by the wind. This day happened to be my birthday – one I’ll never forget. I’ve worked in aviation for years and have never witnessed something so beautiful and sad all at the same time. Accompanied by our airport firefighters, I took photos of nearly 100 idled aircraft from all angles, including from a ladder truck. While capturing the photos, I knew that this would be a moment in history and felt privileged to have the chance to document it. Not long after, those photos were shared by national media outlets. Since then, we can’t even begin to describe how happy we were to see those planes return to the skies.


‘It’s just Pittsburgh being Pittsburgh’

By Bob Kerlik, Executive Editor, Blue Sky News, and Media Relations

Everything we do at the airport is meant for the betterment of our region.

Many times it’s in the form of economic development – increased air service, real estate development like Neighborhood 91 or building our cargo business into an international logistics center.

During the pandemic, as flights and passengers plummeted, Pittsburgh International Airport partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank multiple times to turn the airport’s unused parking lots into one of the largest food distribution centers in the region. And people came – by the hundreds  .

I couldn’t be prouder of the work our airport staff did on those days.  Even as our parking lots were empty and idle, they found a way to use that open space for the betterment of our region – and our neighbors.

The video accompanying this short story captures the essence of Pittsburgh.


Love is in the Air

By Jeff Martinelli, Communications Manager

As a kid I always went along for the ride to Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. I loved going through tunnels, seeing the Duquesne Beer clock and Three Rivers Stadium. But the airport was best – so big, busy, with lots of airplanes and happy people.

Most workdays at this wonderful place are great, but like any job, there is frustration as well. I’ve learned that taking a walk through the terminal reduces that stress.  I see excited kids who don’t take landings and takeoffs for granted, but who giggle and look in wonderment when they see the miracle of flight. Then there’s baggage claim. Put off the anxiety of waiting for luggage and watch reunions of grandparents and grandchildren, boyfriends and girlfriends, and spouses and children greeting their loved ones returning from service – and I can assure you’ll be less stressed, have a bigger smile, and just a little more love in your heart.

This story began being about how airports celebrate Valentine’s Day. But it became about people, love, and airports.


PIT First U.S. Airport to Deploy Ultraviolet Cleaning – By Robots

By Matt Neistein, Manager, Communications

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those milestones that sort of blur everything that came before it. It’s only been a year, and I’m already having trouble remembering what life was like before a mask constantly fogged up my glasses. Everywhere you go, there are reminders that life has changed—the airport is no different. Plexiglass shields, social distancing decals, shuttered concessions … and robots.

Amelia, Rosa, Orville and Wilbur, our first-of-its-kind platoon of autonomous UV scrubbers, showed up this spring to help keep the airport as healthy and safe as possible. I see them slowly trundling around the terminals, lights flashing, quietly annihilating pathogens from our floors. They’re a constant reminder that nothing is the same—but also of the ingenuity and dedication that will  get us through these difficult times.

During a year spent documenting the losses that have hammered our industry, writing a story that provided some measure of hope for the future was a welcome respite.


Local Pilot Welcomed Home for Retirement Flight

By Natalie Fiorilli, Communications Specialist

One week before JetBlue Airways Captain Emerick Aulicino was scheduled to fly the final commercial flight of his career, airport operations notified our team (Marketing, Communications and Customer Experience) of the upcoming water salute, a tradition for retiring pilots. At that point, I didn’t know very much about Captain Aulicino, but I learned a lot in just a brief phone call with him before his retirement. Similar to many pilots, flying wasn’t just a career for Aulicino, it was a passion. A native of Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhood, he began lessons in high school as part of a Civil Air Patrol program and then went on to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. But what made his story stand apart was the remarkable positivity he showed during a year that saw a lot of loss, particularly within the aviation industry. In his 32 years of flying, Aulicino faced a number of hardships caused by economic recessions, moving from airline to airline until taking a chance with JetBlue, a new carrier at that time in 2002.

When asked about the turbulent times during his career, Aulicino simply noted: “When a door closes, a window opens.”

And while it’s been a challenging year for us all, it was refreshing to see someone at the end of his career who was truly happy with the life experiences he gained from work, despite the hardships. I think for many of us in aviation, that sentiment is mutual.

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