Pittsburgh Airport’s Board Will Vote on a Settlement With Its Evicted Airmall Operator

Sept. 1, 2023

Aug. 31—Pittsburgh International Airport has battled in the courts for the last year to keep its evicted airmall operator from returning to the job. Now it's poised to try a different route — a settlement.

Allegheny County Airport Authority board members are expected to vote at a special meeting Friday on a proposed settlement agreement with Fraport Pittsburgh, the longtime concessions manager.

No details of the proposed settlement agreement were available Thursday. Bob Kerlik, a spokesman for the airport authority, which operates Pittsburgh International, declined comment. A Fraport representative did not return an email seeking comment.

However, the single item of the authority board agenda states that "approval is sought to enter into a settlement agreement with Fraport Pittsburgh, Inc.," based on terms to be delineated by CEO Christina Cassotis and the airport solicitor.

The proposed settlement comes less than four months after the state Superior Court ordered Fraport's return to the job after the airport authority ousted the operator on June 15, 2022.

About two weeks ago, the authority petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the decision but there's no guarantee that it will do so. The high court has the option of either granting or rejecting the appeal request.

In evicting Fraport 14 months ago, the authority used county police to escort the operator's employees from the terminal. It has argued that the firm was in default of its lease, in part because of alleged security breaches — charges Fraport has vigorously disputed.

It has maintained that the authority was looking to "find something, anything" to pin on it to terminate the lease, which runs until 2029. It has asserted that it took steps to resolve the issues raised by the authority.

Before Fraport was evicted, the authority offered it $5 million to buy out its lease. The operator refused and countered with a $20 million offer. The two sides have disputed whether that was later reduced to $10 million.

After ousting Fraport, the airport authority won the first battle in court when county Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward ruled against Fraport in its request for a preliminary injunction to return to work.

However, the Superior Court overturned the decision, stating that Judge Ward had erred in determining that the master lease between the authority and Fraport was more a service contract than an actual lease.

The agreement, the three-judge panel found, "is what it says it is — a lease."

Fraport, under various names, has managed the airmall since its inception in 1992. The airmall has been popular with travelers because its shops and restaurants are required to keep prices at the same level as off-airport locations.

Mark Belko: [email protected]


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