Flying higher: The Airmall's $10 million renovation sends a signal

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These are challenging times for Pittsburgh International Airport, which has never fully recovered from losing its status as a hub for US Airways in 2004. Hundreds of flights less and thousands of passengers fewer, the airport could do with a bit more good news.

Last week there was some. As the Post-Gazette's Mark Belko reported last Saturday, Airmall USA, the concessions developer at the airport, is preparing to spend $10 million on a project to reorganize the shops to better take advantage of traffic flows.

That traffic flows are different today is, of course, part of the old bad news. When more flights came in and out of the airport, Concourses A and B, reserved exclusively for US Airways, handled 80 percent of all passengers. Now only half of all passengers use A and B, with the rest using Concourses C and D.

The plan will take stores now located next to escalators and move them to the side, allowing passengers to see other retailers that are now obscured. In addition, seven new retailers will be added to the Airmall, making 74 in all. Airmall USA will pay $5 million, with the other $5 million put up by restaurants and stores. Renovation will begin in 2013 and be finished by the end of the year.

The plan is part of a contract extension that the Allegheny County Airport Authority board agreed to last week. Airmall USA's lease, which was due to expire at the end of 2017, was extended to the end of 2029. It calls for the Airmall to continue to pay a rate of 59 percent of revenues until the end of 2017 and 77 percent thereafter.

It's a shame that more nonflying Pittsburghers won't be able to visit the airport to shop at the Airmall as they once did in pre-9/11 days. Now toughened security measures rule that out.

But the good news is still good and it's not all about better places to shop and eat at the airport. This $10 million plan is a vote of confidence in the Pittsburgh terminal and its future. Airline executives, please take note.

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