MOON TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — With upbeat music from the Moon Area marching band and a ceremonial slicing of an anniversary cake, Pittsburgh International Airport celebrated its 20th birthday with some reminiscences.
“Former County Commissioner Tom Foerster had a real vision of what this airport was going to mean for this region,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Construction of Pittsburgh’s new airport took several years and was coordinated by the county’s director of capital projects, engineer Fred Graham, who still wears a button given 20 years ago to those who built what was then called the Midfield Terminal.
“I was asked to pick a date for an opening three years before we opened. I picked October 1st because that’s my daughter’s birthday and we opened on that date,” Graham told KDKA Money Editor Jon Delano.
Don Chace of Upper St. Clair remembers that date when he arrived here for a job interview.
“This was the first time I flew into Pittsburgh and the first day the new airport was opened,” he said. “I remember that — everybody was like lost, wondering where it was. It was amazing. It was a pretty nice airport, very impressed.”
Despite tremendous changes caused by 9/11 and the loss of hub status for US Airways, airport officials are optimistic about the future, saying fares here are 10 percent lower than nationally and more people are flying.
“Local traffic is up six percent versus many peers which are down double digit decreases,” says Airport Authority CEO Brad Penrod.
While Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis are losing passengers, Pittsburgh is picking up new flyers as fares stay competitive.
Part of that is because this area is also doing better economically.
Officials said Monday that Delta has committed to maintain and increase its flights to Paris next summer, and Republic Airways will be adding 200 jobs right here in 2013 as part of an expanded maintenance facility for its aircraft.
Ironically, the 20th anniversary celebration was right next to empty customer service counters, once occupied by US Airways.
“It’s been a mixed life of 20 years, some of which was obviously hit when 9/11 hit — and US Airways going through a bankruptcy,” noted Fitzgerald.
When US Airways ended its hub relationship, the number of flights plummeted, and 9/11 made the highly praised air mall off-limits to the non-flying public.
“It’s like a ghost-town compared to what it used to be,” noted long-time air mall employee Mary Jo Palsa.
Not too many stores have lasted the full 20 years — TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Hudson News and Bon Voyage are some of the survivors.
Others have been replaced by new stores like InMotion Entertainment.
“Traffic directly affects everybody’s business here at the airport, ours included, but we’ve always done better and grown over the years,” noted Cody Camesi, the store manager.
Palsa says it’s time for TSA to let the non-flying public back into the air mall.
“It’s safe. They should allow people to come out and enjoy the air mall.”