Airport in mothballs?

Pittsburgh International Airport will close a quarter of its gates to cut costs and increase airline fees to offset an anticipated $5.5 million loss in revenue.

Expenses at the Findlay airport will increase just 0.1 percent, from $84,459,442 to $84,559,202, under the 2008 budget adopted Friday by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which also operates the county airport in West Mifflin.

"One of the things that's very clear, and that we owe to the region, is our charge is to maintain this world-class facility and the services that people expect," said authority CEO Brad Penrod. "To do that with a flat budget is something we're extremely proud of."

The spending plan for both airports totals $87.5 million, not including debt service payments of $62.7 million. The airport's cost per passenger is projected to be $13.50 in 2008, up from $12.16 this year.

The budget changes reflect the continuing decline of US Airways, which once operated its largest hub at the airport.

Pittsburgh International offers 437 nonstop daily flights to 107 destinations. Prior to US Airways' bankruptcies, the carrier alone offered more than 500 daily flights.

Closing 27 of the airport's 100 gates will cut about $1 million in costs. The process of closing the gates, located at the lightly used ends of Concourses A and B, is under way. They will be sealed off with a wall that will be painted and have advertisements.

"It should not affect passengers at all," authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. "We will be putting up a wall at the end of 'A' and 'B' at the dogleg. All passengers will see is a wall, but we will realize a million-dollar savings."

US Airways plans to cut 40 daily flights from Pittsburgh to 19 cities in January. The airline said it is losing money in Pittsburgh. The cuts would slash its departures from 108 to 68 starting Jan. 6.

It's not the first time gates have been vacated at the airport because of flight cuts.

The authority closed its Concourse E, the small terminal for regional jets, in 2004 to cut costs. The flights moved to Concourse A, which was nearly emptied in 2002 after US Airways cut a fifth of its flights during its first trip through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The end of Concourse B was closed but later reopened.

The budget calls for airline fees to sharply increase. They include landing, terminal and ramp fees.

Thirteen airlines that have signed long-term leases with the authority -- including US Airways, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways -- must agree to pay the rates. The authority and airlines plan to meet in late November. Airlines have long-term leases for 26 gates.

The authority announced that airline caterer, LSG Sky Chefs, will place its first deep-frozen food manufacturing facility in North America at Pittsburgh International.

"We're very pleased that LSG Sky Chef is expanding operations here and adding jobs," said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato. "It's a testament to our world-class airport and the commitment we've made to develop the airport corridor."

The facility will be located in 20,000 square feet of LSG Sky Chef's existing customer service center at the airport. It is expected to create 21 jobs in 2008 and another 37 jobs by 2010. The facility would open in 2008 and initially produce about 11 million meals annually.

The authority named James Gill as its chief financial officer. Gill, who started Sept. 17, was deputy airport director and chief financial officer for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. Previously, he was deputy executive director of finance and administration for the former Allegheny County Department of Aviation from 1997 to 2000 and had worked at the airport since 1993.

Airport fees

Fees

charged to airlines that use Pittsburgh International Airport will

increase under a budget adopted Friday.

2007

2008

Landing fees

(per 1,000

lbs.)

$2.40

$3.18

Terminal fees

(per square

foot)

$95

$129.17

Ramp fees

(per lineal

foot)

$230.23

$378.92

Source:

Allegheny County Airport Authority


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