Pie in the sky?: Fitzgerald is right to court Emirates

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The “build it and they will come” catchphrase made famous by the movie “Field of Dreams” didn’t prove true for Pittsburgh International Airport. Allegheny County built its airfield of dreams in 1992 only for U.S. Airways, the main beneficiary, to take away its hub in 2004 and eventually most of its flights.

Ever since, it’s been an uphill battle to make the airport worthy of the investment. It didn’t help that the merger of U.S. Airways and American Airlines has now doomed 600 local jobs in the transfer of an operations center to Dallas-Fort Worth.

There’s always been a choice to make in reacting to these unfortunate events: To focus on incremental progress or to think big. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has chosen to think big. He wants to entice Emirates airlines to come to Pittsburgh and plans a trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to sell the idea.

Mr. Fitzergerald got the idea when he read that Emirates had placed a large order for new planes in November — 150 Boeing 777x aircraft and 50 Airbus A380s. It won’t be as easy as saying they’ve got the planes, we’ve got the airport, but we think that Mr. Fitzgerald may be on to something.

Aviation industry sources contacted by the Post-Gazette don’t think so. One pointed out that Emirates can’t service domestic routes in the United States — it’s against the law — ruling that sort of hub out. Others say Emirates is only interested in big cities.

Maybe. It does look like a long shot, given the difficulty Pittsburgh has had in sustaining trans-Atlantic service. But it’s definitely worth a try.

Pittsburgh has a modern, under-utilized airport that has room for expansion and does not have the traffic and delays of airports near major cities like New York and Boston. It enjoys a central location relative to the East Coast, the Midwest and Canada. It has an operations center soon to be vacant and perhaps a maintenance center. If it could attract Emirates, U.S. carriers could find Pittsburgh a more tempting destination.

There’s plenty of critics who would dismiss this idea as just another political boondoggle. But we know this: If we can’t build enough enthusiasm for this, no good will ever come to the airport. Mr. Fitzgerald is right to dream big.


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