Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Almost every time I speak publicly in the Pittsburgh region about what we’re doing at Pittsburgh International Airport, I get asked, “Why are you building a new terminal?”
The short answer is because it’s time for Pittsburgh to have Pittsburgh’s airport designed for the great city and region we serve – with a design that welcomes all and makes clear what we’re all about.
That welcome goes beyond business travelers and tourists coming here. It’s for our people who deserve more than 1,000 covered parking spots in the middle of the Snow Belt, who pick up and drop off friends and family, a uniquely “Pittsburgh” practice.
Today, the industry is very different from what it was in 1992 when the airport opened. Airline business models, passenger expectations and airline consolidation and technology have all changed the way we travel. Our airport infrastructure needs to change, too.
The post-security area of our airport is brilliant. The X-design of the gates area has withstood the test of time and is being copied around the world. With some aesthetic upgrades, we are excited for what it will do for passengers and partners.
The landside terminal, where you check in, go through security and drop off/pick up baggage, needs to change. It was built before TSA existed and for an airline that no longer exists. We have an outdated baggage system that includes a lengthy eight miles of baggage belt. We have an international arrivals process that is badly in need of a redesign. We have conveyances like escalators and elevators in a four-story building that are 30 years old in need of replacement and trains that cost millions annually to maintain. Functionally, it no longer makes sense.
Five years ago, we went through a rigorous process of selecting the architects and engineers for this work. We hired teams we knew would be great partners and work with us to create a custom-Pittsburgh design for the new terminal. To ensure the essence of Pittsburgh informed the final design, we put together an intense, four-day immersive experience for our design and engineering partners to learn, first-hand, what this community is all about.
And that’s how NaTeCo was developed. Standing for Nature, Technology, Community, it is a PIT-specific concept reflecting what makes this region the wonderful place it is. NaTeCo is the root of the design and structure of the new terminal. The roof represents the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania; the interior’s structural columns evoke its many trees; and the new bridge connecting the landside and airside terminals, replacing the train, evokes the compression-expansion experience of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
We’re also building the terminal with a strong focus on sustainability. Our construction is diverting 75% of construction and demolition waste by reusing materials, including 75,000 tons of crushed concrete from existing airfield ramps as the base layer of our new roadways. We’re already on pace for the terminal to achieve LEED Gold upon completion. Our microgrid, which opened in 2021, reduces our carbon emissions by nearly 6 million pounds per year and is receiving global attention for making Pittsburgh International one of the most resilient airports in the world. It will power the new terminal, too.
For our community members who pick up and drop off friends and family, the terminal will have expanded meet-and-greet space, complete with outdoor terraces near baggage claim. Bonus: We have outdoor terraces planned for after security, too.
The airport is the front door to our region. It should reflect the vibrant renaissance of what’s happening here today.
This will be the right space for our passengers and our partners. The airlines, with whom we continue to have an excellent partnership, are fully supportive of the project. They back the bonds to pay for it. They actually voted to approve this massive transformation during the pandemic, a testament to their faith in our market. Another bonus: The project is funded without any local or state taxpayer dollars.
This is the change we need and deserve.
It’s time for Pittsburgh to have an airport that represents what this region is known for: Resiliency, innovation, pride and hard work.
Christina A. Cassotis is CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority.