PIT CEO Christina Cassotis speaks during an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney in front of industry leaders at Aviation Festival Americas in Miami on Nov. 4. (Photo by Bob Kerlik)

PIT CEO: Airports, Airlines Can Partner to Tackle Global Issues

Airports and airlines have a great opportunity to work together on issues facing the industry, Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis told aviation leaders last week.

Her remarks came just days before Congress passed President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which includes $25 billion for airports to reduce maintenance backlogs and spur the use of low-carbon technologies, among other improvements.

Cassotis spoke to the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney in an interview on Nov. 4 at Aviation Festival Americas in Miami.

“I think a lot of airline people still see airports as expensive parking lots, or even cheap parking lots, just a place to dock and land and load and unload customers,” McCartney said.

“There’s a huge opportunity to partner between airports and airlines to figure out how to solve the problem in front of us instead of sitting across from each other and figuring out how to fight with each other,” Cassotis said.

“That (partnership approach) is what we’ve taken, and that’s why we got our terminal approved in the pandemic by our airline partners. What we were saying was, ‘Look, this is what it’s going to do for you. (It will) lower your cost overall and provide for a better customer experience.’”

PIT’s $1.39 billion Terminal Modernization Program includes a new landside terminal designed to reduce operation and maintenance costs and improve the passenger experience. PIT is aiming for silver LEED certification and the project will include other features including rainwater harvesting. The airport also set industry-leading workforce diversity and DBE hiring goals as part of an effort to engage underserved communities.

Aviation Festival Americas brought together airlines, airports, aviation vendors and consultants for a two-day conference whose speakers included Allegiant president John Redmond and JetBlue chief people officer Laurie David Villa, as well as representatives from Delta, Southwest, Sun Country and others.

McCartney and Cassotis’ interview touched on everything from better airport-airline relationships to sustainability. Better collaboration between airlines and airports is key in helping the industry move forward, Cassotis said.

“You cannot operate an airline without an airport. That said, an airport should operate more and more with the airlines’ business model in mind. I think we have a responsibility to do a better job as airports,” Cassotis said.

On sustainability, McCartney asked, “Can airports do things to help airlines make their carbon reduction goals?”

“I think it’s going to be critical,” Cassotis said. “… If the airline industry is (targeted from a sustainability standpoint) and can’t tell the story around what aviation is doing in conjunction with the airport, I think the airlines risk the kind of taxation that doesn’t allow for investment going forward.

“Airports can be huge partners in helping to tell a story and do their part to improve the sustainability profile of the whole industry.”

Cassotis pointed to PIT’s first-of-its-kind microgrid fueled by natural gas and solar energy as an example.

“So you generate all of your own electricity?” McCartney asked.

“All of it, and the excess is sold back to the grid. And that has lowered our carbon footprint; it’s lowered our cost of energy, which means the airlines are paying less; and we are fully redundant and resilient. That’s a great news story,” Cassotis said. “That can be replicated (at other airports).”

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