PIT Struggling Despite Region's Robust Economy

Airport was on pace through November to post its lowest annual passenger total since opening in 1992.

The authority continues to look for a new CEO to be an airport promoter who works to boost air service. The authority's former CEO Brad Penrod was reassigned a year ago, to focus on overseeing day-to-day operations as president and chief strategy officer.

The CEO search became a secondary concern to the authority's efforts to finalize the drilling deal and preserve locally based airline jobs threatened by the American merger. Now, Fitzgerald says of the CEO search, "It's a priority."

Fitzgerald offered no timetable on when a new airport chief might be hired.

Bijan Vasigh, economics professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said hiring a CEO to focus on flight development is a good step but landing additional flights will be driven more by economics, from airline fees to local demand. In the current climate of airline consolidation and cuts, it's an uphill battle, Vasigh said.

"Having a very knowledgeable CEO could be instrumental but in this climate with only four major airlines that are focused on reducing, it's challenging. In the next two to three years it will be extremely difficult to change the equation," Vasigh said. "(A new CEO) is not a game-changer."

Vasigh said it's unlikely that one of the four major airlines -- American, Delta, United or Southwest -- would consider Pittsburgh as a hub but said if fares continue to rise as competition decreases, Pittsburgh could see interest from a start-up airline. He said flights could expand by 20 percent to 50 percent if that happened -- a projection that, like Lauer's, could lift the airport above 200 daily flights.

Pittsburgh doesn't have a large enough population or enough large companies to support a large hub in current market conditions, he said.

"I don't think you'll see the previous position (Pittsburgh) had years ago but you could see improvement," Vasigh said.

Tom Fontaine and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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