Airport here desires overflow from East Coast
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Pittsburgh International Airport wants to become a pinch-hitter for congested East Coast airports.
Allegheny County Airport Authority officials are pitching a plan to ease chronic congestion and delays at airports in New York, Newark and Philadelphia by routing some of the connecting traffic through Pittsburgh's half-empty terminal.
As part of the plan, the authority wants the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict traffic at the four airports to their "hourly optimal capacity." It also wants the federal government to provide $24 million over five years to entice airlines to redirect connecting traffic to Pittsburgh. The money would be used to subsidize landing fees that airlines normally pay to use an airport.
While the authority billed the plan as a novel way to address congestion, one national aviation consultant called it a "crackpot scheme" that has virtually no chance of being implemented.
"This is absolutely nothing short of piracy," said Michael Boyd, president of Colorado-based Boyd Group International.
"They're stuck with a big airport. Now they want the government to pay ... to force us to use their airport."
Mr. Boyd described the proposal as a "bad idea for everybody." He said it would entail more hours in the air to make connections through Pittsburgh rather than more convenient East Coast hubs.
"It will just raise costs for everybody," he said.
However, in a white paper outlining the plan, the authority said the proposal would cut fuel costs, ease delays at the East Coast airports and improve passenger and customer service.
In 2007, delays at New York airports cost travelers $187 million in lost time, the authority said. In the same year, flight delays cost the national economy $32.9 billion.
"We think it's a good thinking-out-of-the-box solution for the industry," said Bradley D. Penrod, the airport authority's executive director.
Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the proposed $24 million to entice airlines to relocate connections through Pittsburgh is no different than the incentives offered by airports to attract carriers or to get them to add new flights.
The authority also stated that Philadelphia is spending $5.3 billion to build one runway and extend two others, projects that will cost the FAA $1.75 billion and the airlines hundreds of millions more.
Pittsburgh International, which lost its US Airways hub in 2004, is now operating at only 15 percent of its capacity and has the ability to add another 120 flights per hour to its current schedule.
The authority stated the proposal could remove more than 32,000 flights a year from congested airspace without reducing local traffic from the New York, Newark or Philadelphia airports.
The plan is patterned after a "wayports" concept advanced in 1992 to build new airports and make better use of underutilized ones to take pressure off congested hubs. However, Mr. Boyd described the concept as "amateurism. That's why it never went anywhere 20 years ago."
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato also is pressing the FAA to limit landing slots at East Coast airports and require airlines to funnel connecting traffic through underutilized airports like Pittsburgh.
First Published February 12, 2011 12:00 am