Plans advance to make Pittsburgh aiport a Pennsylvania hub

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A consultant has been hired to help with a bid to make Pittsburgh International Airport a hub for travel within Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority board hired Texas-based Mead & Hunt Inc. Friday to develop possible business plans, including costs and flight schedules, for airlines that might be interested in starting service between Pittsburgh and 13 other airports in the state, including Latrobe, DuBois, Erie, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Lancaster and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Mead & Hunt will be paid $299,148 for the work. The airport authority will chip in $74,787, and the rest will be paid by a $224,361 state grant.

"Some of these smaller carriers don't have the resources to do route planning and business modeling. This will actually give them that information," Bradley D. Penrod, airport authority executive director, said of the consultant's work.

The authority this week had formal and informal talks with airlines about the initiative during a conference in Sacramento, Calif., Mr. Penrod said.

US Airways dropped Pittsburgh International as a hub in November 2004. With the decision, the airline also eliminated service to many of the smaller airports in the state that served as feeders for flights from Pittsburgh.

Mr. Penrod said the Marcellus Shale drilling boom is "a big piece of the population that right now is driving" the new initiative. He added that he senses a renewed interest from business people in having service between Pittsburgh and other communities in the state.

"We hear that from across the state, that people want to reconnect by air to Pittsburgh," he said.

The intrastate proposal has drawn withering criticism from Colorado-based aviation consultant Michael Boyd, who described it as a "loony bin." He said there's no airline in business with the desire or the equipment to tackle such an initiative.

He maintained that it would cost "millions a year" in subsidies to make the plan work. He also argued that it's easier and cheaper to drive to other destinations in the state than it is to fly.

Mr. Penrod disputed the latter point.

"You don't talk to the same people I do," he said, adding that the airport hears all the time from engineering firms, lawyers and Marcellus Shale officials who are interested in such service.

travel - businessnews

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published June 9, 2012 12:00 AM


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