Saturday, February 17, 2018

Pittsburgh International Airport (KPIT) mulls closing its longest runway



Pittsburgh International Airport’s longest runway, one capable of handling the world’s biggest jumbo jets, could be nearing its final takeoff.

The same master plan update that calls for spending $1.1 billion to modernize the airport is recommending the closing of runway 10 Right/28 Left in a move that could save an estimated $2 million a year in operation and maintenance costs.

Should the recommendation be accepted, it would leave the airport with three runways — two for east-west departures and landings, and one for northwest-southeast traffic.

That’s more than London’s Heathrow Airport or Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, said Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International. She stressed that no final decision has been made.

“This is truly, truly the case of studying and we don’t know,” she said. “We’re not going in with any preconceived notions. It’s a matter of what do we get out of this if we do it.”

The proposal to shut down a runway, she said, is separate from the modernization, which includes construction of a new building for ticketing, security and baggage, and the closing of the airport’s landside building.

Opened in 1980, the 10 Right/28 Left runway — built at a time that the former US Airways was expanding rapidly in Pittsburgh — is being targeted for closing 14 years after the same carrier, now part of American Airlines, shut down its airport hub.

When the 11,500-foot runway debuted, Pittsburgh International was handling 11.5 million passengers a year. Last year, it accommodated just short of 9 million — its best year since 2007.

The master plan recommendation is based in part on estimates that show that even with the recent surge in new flights, the number of travelers using the airport will jump to only 12 million by 2033 — or about 500,000 more than in 1980.




Total aircraft operations are expected to climb from 139,300 in 2013 to 166,560 in 2033 — much lower than the 336,346 in 2004.

Given such projections, there is no need for four runways, Ms. Cassotis said. With three, the airport should “be good up to 70 million passengers at least.”

Ms. Cassotis said Heathrow, for example, handles some 70 million passengers a year with two runways.

Narita in Tokyo accommodates nearly 40 million a year with the same number.

“We don’t have enough operations to justify four, nor is it likely that we ever will,” she said.

The level of projected demand actually could justify the closing of two runways, stated Ricondo, the aviation consultant that prepared the master plan. But it was determined that would “not be viable given the need to maintain operational capability, redundancy and efficiency.”

Ricondo stated that closing 10 Right/28 Left made more sense than shutting down any of the other three runways.

The runway is in poor condition compared to the others and would need to undergo reconstruction or major maintenance much sooner than runway 10 Center/28 Center, the other being considered for closing.

It also would take the most airfield pavement out of operation, maximizing savings for snow removal, lighting and ongoing maintenance.

Closing the runway, which is the farthest from the terminal, also would generate the most operational savings to the airlines — an estimated $2.1 million a year in taxiing costs.

Although runway 10 Right/28 Left is the one being recommended for closing, Ms. Cassotis said 10 Center/28 Center is still on the table. She noted there are considerations that go beyond commercial operations, including the 911th Airlift Wing and the 171st Air Refueling Wing based at the airport.

“We have to make sure all stakeholders get to weigh in and we have to be mindful of all of the assets we’re trying to maintain,” she said.

Ms. Cassotis added the authority already has talked to the airlines about the proposal and they are “generally supportive of removing costs” where appropriate.

Bradley D. Penrod, a former authority executive director who oversaw airfield operations for years, said closing one of the runways is “a prudent thing to look at.”

Runways in general are expensive to maintain and 10 Right/28 Left was built with a big hub in mind, he noted. “The demand’s not there,” he said. “All options have to be looked at.”

William Swelbar, chief industry strategist for Delta Airport Consultants Inc., said the airport’s second-longest runway — at 10,502 feet — is capable of handling all of the planes that take off and land in Pittsburgh.

Today’s jets have much more efficient engines and don’t require as much runway as in the past, he said. Closing a runway could be a clever way to help mitigate some of the costs associated with the proposed modernization.

“I hate to keep coming across as a Christina fan, but there’s nothing she really does that is crazy,” Mr. Swelbar said.

The runway closing would have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration after discussions involving stakeholders and safety considerations. The authority also would have to do operation and noise studies, and an environmental impact assessment.

It could take 18 months to two years before there’s a final decision, Ms. Cassotis said.

In a statement Thursday, the FAA said it is aware of the authority’s proposal to close runway 10 Right/28 Left and that it would have the final say.

Story and comments ➤ http://www.post-gazette.com

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