Airport shuffles gates, seeking savings for merged airlines
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The bulk of domestic flights will be consolidated to three of the four concourses at the Pittsburgh International Airport under a plan being implemented through early next year, in part as a response to recent mergers in the industry.
With the changes, the Findlay airport's C concourse, which has been home to four airlines, will be used primarily for charters, international arrivals and for the extra gate space needed at times by carriers.
The only airline that will keep leased space on that concourse will be JetBlue Airways, which will occupy one gate near the entrance. Other gates on the concourse will be rented by airlines on an as-needed basis.
Both United Airlines and AirTran Airways, each with two gates on the C concourse, are moving to the A concourse as part of the realignment.
Eric Ruprecht, director of business administration and properties for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which oversees Pittsburgh International, said AirTran already is operating from a new gate on A, while United probably will make the move in early 2013.
Mr. Ruprecht said the reshuffling was necessitated in large part by mergers involving Southwest Airlines and AirTran, and United and Continental Airlines. But he added it also was designed to help airlines to use the space more effectively.
That, in turn, could help to lower their costs and create a climate more conducive to adding flights.
"I was trying to make it better for them so that when they looked at Pittsburgh, they were getting extra value for their money," Mr. Ruprecht said.
As part of the reshuffling, Southwest Airlines and AirTran are taking up all of one side of the A concourse, using four gates on a full-time leased basis and three others as needed.
United, which completed its merger with Continental in March, will take six gates on the other side of the A concourse, two more than it now has, Mr. Ruprecht said. United currently has two gates on the D concourse in addition to its gates on C.
Once United arrives in the A concourse, the move could pave the way for the airport authority to open up gates at the end of that concourse that were mothballed after US Airways eliminated its Pittsburgh hub in November 2004.
United will be taking several gates now used by Southwest on an as-needed basis. With those gates gone, Southwest, which will be adding a nonstop flight to Houston in April, could use some of the extra gate space available on C. But if it wants to keep all of its operations in the same place, it may have to ask the authority to open up more space on the A concourse.
Mr. Ruprecht said he's already had discussions with Southwest officials in Pittsburgh about the possibility. But he added they have not made any decisions.
An airline generally prefers to have gates adjacent to one another and in the same concourse because that makes it more convenient for travelers and for the operations of the carrier.
Overall, 50 gates are now utilized at the airport, down from 100 (including 25 commuter gates) during the height of the US Airways hub.
Under the realignment, US Airways will remain on the B concourse, where it has 11 gates, while American Airlines, with two gates, and Delta Air Lines, with six, will stay on the D concourse.
Because of the mergers, some airlines were paying for space they were not using, Mr. Ruprecht said. He added that his goal in making the reassignments was "to give them space they could use more efficiently and not pay for dead space."
Airlines also could save money by acquiring more leased gates that they operate full-time, rather than paying to use authority-owned "common use" gates on a per-flight basis.
In the long run, the leased gates give airlines "the opportunity to add flights at a lower cost," Mr. Ruprecht said.
First Published November 8, 2012 12:30 am