Pittsburgh Airport May Expand Use of Automated Baggage System

Since the passenger terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport opened in 1992, US Airways has had exclusive use of a sophisticated automated system used to lug baggage to and from its jets.

But that soon could be changing.

With the airline's repeated cutbacks in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Airport Authority now is looking to tie other carriers into the system, which Executive Director Bradley D. Penrod described as "significantly" underutilized.

At the same time, other airlines have been growing, in large part in response to the US Airways reductions, overtaxing the baggage operations, including screening for explosives, at their end of the terminal.

"We're out of room," Mr. Penrod said. "Literally, there are times when we're beyond capacity. So we need to allow that growth to happen at the [US Airways] end of the building."

Airport authority board members approved a $549,451 change order to SAI Consulting Engineers Inc. yesterday to oversee modifications that would allow other airlines to use the baggage system.

The system, which is operated and maintained by the authority, comprises nearly six miles of conveyor belts that run from the boarding areas in the terminal's airside building to the baggage claim and check-in areas in the landside building.

It uses readers to scan tags attached to luggage at check-in and to direct those bags to the appropriate gate for outbound flights and to the appropriate carousel for pick-up on arriving flights.

Mr. Penrod said the authority may open up the full automated system to other carriers or at least part of it to allow for screenings for explosives. In the latter case, airlines then would use carts to lug baggage to gates.