Much rah-rah-sis-boom-bahing has been coming out of the Allegheny County Airport Authority about how robust passenger and freight traffic has been at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) as we continue to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us. .
But a new analysis of the latest available numbers suggests that cheerleading is misleading, according to a scholar at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
“Like the region’s job recovery through October, activity at the PIT has yet to return to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 or 2018,” says Jake Haulk, president emeritus of the Pittsburgh think tank.
And recent developments at Findlay Township Airport are not encouraging.
“The total passenger count (for October 2022) in the PIT remained 13.8% behind the October 2019 posting. This is a worse performance than in September, when the total passenger count was 11.8% below the 2019 value,” notes Haulk.
“The October PIT international passenger count was still 43% behind the October 2019 reading and 42% below the October 2018 level.
“This despite the return of subsidized trips by British Airways (BA) in June”, he recalls.
Additionally, airport operations remained 20% below the October 2019 reading and nearly 22% below the October 2018 level.
And cargo handled at the airport, which had recovered strongly in 2020 and 2021, fell 28.6% in October, below the year-earlier reading.
“Even more alarming was the drop in cargo levels – 6% below the October 2019 figure. Cargo handling was the only bright spot in the airport’s activity data.
The Airport Authority, by the way, recently opened a new $24.5 million/76,000 sq ft cargo facility.
Despite the delay in international travel numbers, British Airways recently exercised its previously undisclosed option for another $500,000 in public grants (on top of the original grant of $3 million over two years). 🇧🇷
Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis defended the trip noting that “Pittsburgh is a global brand and we need to tell this story whenever and wherever we get the chance. This is vital for building partnerships and increasing international air service. We thank our British Airways partners for taking the time to understand and believe in this market.”
But if all this is true, if Pittsburgh is a preeminent market in the world, “why do you have to go to such lengths to sell it?” Haulk asks. “How is it that after the time it has been operating at the PIT, BA has not seen the need to add flights? Were they unaware of the ‘global brand’ that justified more flights?”
Not only has the Allegheny Institute completely debunked the Airport Authority’s inflated claims of the Airport Authority’s economic impact on BA flights, it also continues to raise questions about the proportion of travelers and their dollars being exported to the UK and other European points versus the number of people and dollars flights are imported into the Greater Pittsburgh economy.
The PIT never published the percentages of American and European passengers using British Airways flights.
But Pittsburgh’s regional economy has much bigger problems than a lack of flights to Europe. “Actually,” says Haulk, “there are plenty of options for getting to London on one-stop flights for people who really need or want to go.”
And, as noted many times, regional employment is not expanding, population growth is almost nonexistent, and the inner city is essentially living off its past glories.
The problem is fundamental: Pittsburgh is not a business-friendly region,” Haulk reiterates decades of the same warning. “Labor issues, taxes and the regulatory environment are the main obstacles to achieving the kind of growth that many areas of the country are enjoying.
“All the special development programs and subsidizing this or that industry right now, including air travel to England, are very poor substitutes for a business-friendly economic climate,” concludes Haulk.