Celebrating 30 Years of Pittsburgh International Airport

1992 opening set new standard for U.S. aviation, travelers

By Matt Neistein

Published October 3, 2022

Read Time: 3 mins


The final arriving flight at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport landed at about 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, 1992.

Six hours later, at 5:50 a.m. Oct. 1, a red-eye from San Diego arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport and U.S. airports had a new standard.

At that time, the overall airport property had grown to 12,000 acres, the third-largest in the country. Officials bragged that Chicago and Atlanta’s airports would both fit together inside Pittsburgh’s.

Construction of the successor to Greater PIT, which was built in 1952 and in its time was also considered a landmark in U.S. aviation, required the movement of 20 million cubic yards of earth, the creation of a 25-acre landfill and a 15-acre retention pond.


As construction continues on today’s Terminal Modernization Program, which will set another new standard for airports in the 21st century, let’s celebrate PIT’s birthday with all the “firsts” it established 30 years ago.

It was the first airport in the world built as a connecting complex, featuring a landside (or pre-security) building, a Central Services building with a separate commuter terminal, and an X-shaped airside terminal featuring four concourses.

The pioneering shape of the 1,204,986-square-foot airside terminal, which inspired similar designs around the world, allowed more planes to access their gates with greater ease. Airlines saved $12 million each year in fuel costs as planes spent less time idling and traveled shorter distances around the ramp area.

(Oh, and about the ramp: It contained enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. About 120,000 tons of that will be ground up and repurposed in the construction of today’s new terminal.)


Inside, the airside terminal debuted the “airmall” concept, catering to the millions of passengers who were just connecting through what was then a hub for US Airways. One hundred storefronts featuring 100,000 square feet of space contained restaurants, retail and more to cater to people killing time between flights.

As part of the airmall concept, the airport also created what was called “street pricing.” To avoid markups, concessions were contractually obligated to post prices identical to what they maintained at other locations, a first for airports.

Eight miles of baggage belts looped around the airside terminal and connected it to the landside terminal as part of a $33 million system. At the time, its use of lasers and fiber optics to track luggage was state of the art.

The 440,000-square-foot landside building was surrounded by more than 17,000 parking spaces. Short-term parking was $12.50 a day—about $26 today, which is exactly what those lots cost in 2022.

The $800 million airport included seven tunnels, 17 bridges, 12 lane-miles of roadway and 74 restrooms—more than any other U.S. airport at the time.

The industry recognized that PIT was on the cutting edge of aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration used the new airport to test a prototype for ground radar to track planes moving on the ramp as well as a new program that standardized lighting and field markings.

The New York Times called PIT an “airport of the future” when it opened, and its unique design and advanced technology garnered praise from around the globe.

But the industry—and the world—have changed dramatically over the past three decades, as has Pittsburgh. The region’s needs are different and require solutions for a new generation of travelers and business partners.

PIT’s Terminal Modernization Program is a vision for Pittsburgh’s airport that takes the best of what was created in 1992 and builds upon it for the 21st century, once again setting the standard for the aviation industry.

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