Pittsburgh’s modernisation mission: the post-pandemic terminal

As the industry begins to adapt to the new rules, guidelines, and changing passenger behaviour brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh Airport has focused its attention on the post-pandemic future with a new, modernised terminal. Frankie Youd profiles the proposal.

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Formerly known as Greater Pittsburgh International Airport, located 10 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Airport is the primary international airport serving Greater Pittsburgh, as well as Ohio and West Virginia.

Due to its importance as a gateway to the region, the airport has recently announced a new terminal development. The airport has broken ground on a new 700,000 square-foot terminal, the first terminal in the country to be built from scratch after Covid-19 struck.

The terminal’s key focus will be on public health and technology, with new facilities prioritising social distancing, clean air ventilation, and outdoor spaces. Alongside the new tech-focused design features, the airport will also provide more than 5,000 jobs to local construction workers.

Why is the change happening?

The development of the new terminal has been founded on the principles of the Pittsburgh Airport Terminal Modernization Programme: to stabilise airline costs, be Pittsburgh’s main airport, be environmentally sustainable, enhance the experience for all customers, and provide value to the community.

With over 3.5 million passengers passing through the terminal in 2020, modernisation upgrades will allow for a new and improved passenger experience. At present the passenger flow at the airport has been called inefficient, due to several drop off points, three floors to navigate, and multiple TSA checkpoints – all of which make the trip to the boarding gate a difficult process.

Paired with this, the airport’s current conveyance system – which includes escalators, moving walkways, and elevators – is costly for the airport to maintain, with much of it not fully utilised.

The design: what’s under the hood

Public health
The design of the new terminal is focused on technology and public health, with the new terminal including clean air technology in the form of ventilation systems, large areas to allow for social distancing, and a 90,000 square-foot outdoor terrace area.

The terminal has been designed as an elevated, three-tiered structure that will include a natural wood ceiling and multi-level glass windows, which have been specifically selected to allow in as much natural light for passengers as possible.

Paired with these design features, Pittsburgh Airport has announced a regional partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will work with the airport to reduce site hazards and injuries, provide an increasingly greener construction site, and increase the sustainability of the project.

The technology
Technology is the second key focus area for the new terminal and the airport will hone in on streamlining passenger processing operations. Ticketing, security checkpoints, and baggage claim will be a simple, consolidated process, using technology to improve the passenger experience. The terminal itself has been designed to reduce passenger travel and processing time by 50% from drop off to airside.

The new terminal has also considered passenger experience from the moment of arrival by developing a new multi-modal complex parking garage that will boast 3,300 spaces, rental car facilities, and entrances to all roadways.

The environment
With airport terminals around the globe producing large amounts of CO2 and other harmful emissions due to the running of lights, generators, and other fossil-fuelled appliances, the airport has considered the environment in the new terminal development.

The new terminal will be powered by a microgrid, which is fuelled by 10,000 solar panels as well as five natural gas generators. The design of the new terminal has been named among the most sustainable in the industry, with officials building to a standard of LEED-certified (a globally recognised symbol of sustainability and achievement) silver and upwards.

The airport has also stated that during construction a minimum of 75% of the waste produced – including concrete – will be recycled or reused where possible.

The public
Alongside these tech and health-focused elements, the airport has also been designed with the passenger experience in mind, which will see stable airline costs maintained for passengers which are reflective of the region’s economy.

The Airport Authority has also stated that a new industry-leading standard will be adopted at the new terminal, to increase equal access and opportunities for small businesses and people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Construction: tools of the trade

The construction of the new 700,000 square-foot terminal will not be something that will magically appear overnight. Instead, the airport has estimated that construction time will see the terminal opening in early 2025.

During construction, the project will provide jobs to over 5,500 local construction workers, skilled trades, and suppliers, providing economic benefits to the region.

For the construction of the terminal, it has been estimated that more than 12,000 tonnes of steel, more than 354,000 square-feet of wood materials and 94,000 tonnes of concrete will be needed – much of which the airport is planning to source locally.

We are advancing a new standard for infrastructure projects that benefit our people and our communities first.

Speaking on the development of the terminal in a press release, Christine Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority – the authority that operates Pittsburgh International Airport – said: “As we break ground with the concrete that has been here for decades, we break ground on more than a building; we break ground on the future of travel. We are advancing a new standard for infrastructure projects that benefit our people and our communities first.”

Due to the immense scale of the project and the materials needed, the development of the terminal is among the largest infrastructure projects that Pittsburgh has ever seen. Once constructed, the Airport Authority has estimated that the terminal will generate around $2.5bn for the economy, alongside providing 14,5000 direct and indirect jobs.

The airport has also calculated that the new terminal development will create $700m in gross regional product/value for the region, and generate around $27m in state and local income tax.

Speaking in a press release, Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive, said: “The new terminal programme is a critical infrastructure project for the region and will deliver long-term economic benefits. This is further proof of how our region continues to grow and develop when anchored by a thriving airport that opens the door to the world.”