Airport to Spend $14 Million to Add Explosives Detector to Baggage Mover

The Allegheny County Airport Authority board moved yesterday to make it easier for US Airways travelers to have their checked luggage screened for explosives.

It authorized $14.4 million in contracts to incorporate explosive detection equipment into the automated baggage system used by US Airways at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Currently, US Airways passengers who check their bags at the ticket counter must then lug them to large equipment set up inside the airport's ticketing terminal to have them screened for explosives by U.S. Transportation Security Administration employees.

Once the modifications have been made, checked bags will be placed on a belt behind the ticket counter and automatically directed to the equipment that does the screening for explosives. They then will be routed to the appropriate airplane.

"It saves time. It saves manpower," authority Executive Director Kent George said.

The authority hopes to complete the modifications by fall 2008 in time for the holiday travel rush, he said.

Other airlines operating out of Pittsburgh have been using a similar system since 2005. Work on the US Airways side was delayed by the airline's bankruptcies and uncertainty over its future role in Pittsburgh.

The Airport Authority has been operating and maintaining the automated system, featuring nearly six miles of conveyor belts, since 2005 after US Airways relinquished it during its first bankruptcy.

While the system has been used exclusively by US Airways since the opening of the midfield terminal in 1992, Mr. George said he has been exploring the idea of moving one or two other airlines onto it.

The reason is that the separate system used by carriers other than US Airways is becoming taxed during peak times, he said. As US Airways has cut back in Pittsburgh, many of those airlines have picked up more passengers.

Southwest Airlines, for instance, is now the airport's second largest carrier, with nearly 12 percent of all passengers. US Airways is carrying roughly 49 percent of all travelers, down considerably from the days when it routinely hauled about 90 percent of them.

Also yesterday, the board authorized a resolution that allows US Airways to use the authority as a conduit to obtain up to $50 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance construction of a new flight operations center on airport land.

Pittsburgh beat out Charlotte and Phoenix for the new operations center, which will allow the region to retain 450 jobs and gain another 150. To get the center, the state and county offered $16.25 million in incentives, including $3 million in grants and $12.5 million in loans.

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