Discount airlines boost Pittsburgh region, study finds

Pittsburgh International Airport's addition of discount carriers since 2000 has not only lowered average fares by 27 percent but brought jobs to the airport and tourism to the region, according to a study released Wednesday.

Low-fare airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran employ 429 people and contributed to the creation of another 189 jobs, according to the study by Wilbur Smith Associates, Cincinnati.

The study estimates that leisure travelers in the Pittsburgh area saved $64.4 million in air fare last year through discounter alternatives to major airlines. Local business travelers saved an estimated $109.8 million.

"But we have to support those carriers," said Kent George, executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, during a morning news conference. He noted that two discount carriers -- Vanguard and Independence Air -- entered, then pulled out of Pittsburgh in recent years.

The airport authority hired Wilbur Smith Associates to analyze the economic impact of low-fare service here in June, one year since trhe arrival of JetBlue, the latest discounter to begin service. The authority has endeavored to lure discounters here since 2002, when US Airways filed for bankruptcy and began converting Pittsburgh from a hub operation with more than 500 flights to a base with 125 flights.

The study also found that low-fare carriers brought 110,600 visitors to Pittsburgh last year who spent about $43.3 million in this region.