Looking for a good deal on designer sunglasses, or a used laptop? Perhaps some jewelry?
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll find whatever you seek at the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s annual auction, which returns this year on Saturday, Oct. 22.
The popular event, which hosted more than 1,000 people in person and hundreds more online last year, will once again be held in a heavy equipment storage building on the airfield at Pittsburgh International Airport.
And while this year’s list of items won’t be finalized for a few more weeks, auctioneer Joe R. Pyle is confident that bidders will find some unique opportunities.
“The annual Pittsburgh airport sale is one of our customers’ favorite sales of the year,” he said. “Once someone attends, they never want to miss it again. The electricity and excitement are phenomenal.”
The auction features items left in the terminals and on airport property that could not be reunited with their owners, including electronics, designer clothing, books, toys and occasionally alligator heads.
Among the most prominent items for sale are passenger vehicles left in the airport’s parking lots, as well as heavy equipment and specialty vehicles that the airport and county no longer use, like bomb squad trucks.
Airport staff and government agencies do the best they can to reunite owners with lost or abandoned items, but the airport can’t store everything indefinitely. That’s where the auction comes in, said Dawn Bailey, Manager, Landside & Terminal Operations.
“Our goal is always to return lost possessions back to the owners, but when we can’t, it begins to pile up,” Bailey said. “The auction allows us to clear out our storage while trying to do some good for the community at the same time.”
A few weeks before the auction, staff gather for what they call “the Big Sort”: volunteers comb through the thousands of items collected over the past year at PIT and Allegheny County Airport.
Organizing and cataloging everything takes days, said Elise Gomez, Manager, Customer Experience, who oversees that part of the process.
Boxes are filled with belts, cell phones, charging cords and other typical possessions left at the security checkpoints, at gates and elsewhere in the terminals. But the fun part is uncovering the not-so-typical items.
“We spend a lot of time carefully sorting through and organizing the unclaimed items,” Gomez said. “But we definitely separate some of the unique items that catch our eyes because we know they will be of special interest to bidders.”
The auction isn’t just a way to purge the lost and found, however. The event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity over the years; PIT also has donated countless boxes of clothing, eyeglasses and other items to community nonprofits.
Proceeds from personal items left behind go to the ACAA Charitable Foundation, which helps support the Art in the Airport program, aviation scholarships and workforce development. Last year, after expenses, the auction raised more than $127,000, including more than $75,000 for the charitable foundation.
Proceeds from the sale of ACAA equipment go back into the airport’s general fund. The Airport Authority has the right to collect unpaid parking fees from abandoned vehicles that are auctioned off; whatever money is left from selling them goes to the state.