Pittsburgh Airport’s new terminal 50% complete – part one: emphasis on ‘health’ in the design
Around the world several airports have been at pains to design new terminal space with lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in mind. One of them is at the Clark International Airport near Manila, Philippines. Pittsburgh Airport in the US is another one to incorporate such measures in its new terminal, which has reached the halfway stage in its construction.
Whether or not these examples become benchmarks for other airports depends on the position taken elsewhere as to the likelihood of another pandemic in the foreseeable future, because any such measures will inevitably mean more open space within terminals – and fresh air can’t earn revenues.
Separately, Pittsburgh has reached a point where it has put its history with US Airways behind it. It is no longer heavily reliant on a single airline, but international direct flight options remain limited.
This is part one of a two-part report.
- Pittsburgh Airport has reached the halfway point of a new terminal.
- It is designed to rectify existing inefficiencies.
- Passenger processing time should be reduced by 50%.
- But a major plank in that design is to make it ‘pandemic-compliant’ for the future.
- There is also a focus on technology and environmental compliance.
- Solar panels will power the terminal.
Pittsburgh’s new terminal close to 50% complete; one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) in western Pennsylvania is the primary international airport serving Greater Pittsburgh, a region of over two million inhabitants, as well as the states of Ohio and West Virginia.
PIT reports that it is nearing the 50% completion mark on its new 700,000sqft terminal, which is part of its USD1.4 billion 'Terminal Modernisation Programme' (TMP). It is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in Pittsburgh.
With the expansion, the new facility will consolidate most airport operations under one roof.
The airport held a topping-out and beam-signing ceremony in early May-2023 for one of the uppermost steel beams, which will be placed on top of the terminal during summer 2023. The airport broke ground on the facility in Oct-2021, with project completion scheduled for 2025.
Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates and manages PIT, described the project as “a manifestation of our mission; and it is being created by and for the people living in western Pennsylvania with an emphasis on the nature, technology and community of the region”.
Apart from the terminal, a new parking facility and airport roadway system is being constructed. The project is intended to deliver a faster, more efficient experience for passengers, while providing a more sustainable and adaptable airport.
Very much a ‘local’ project
The airport has responded to its local community by using materials and fabricated steel from the nearby Sippel Steel Company in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh is still known as ‘the Steel City’ for its role in the history of the US steel industry. Although that industry is not as dominant as it was, the city also has extensive aluminium, concrete and glass manufacturing facilities, all of which have been, and will be, used in this project.
Moreover, around 85% of onsite workers are from the western Pennsylvania region.
The total project is said to support over 14,000 direct and indirect jobs and to create nearly USD2.5 billion of economic activity and investment in local people and businesses.
As is almost always the case these days, the new infrastructure uses sustainable construction techniques. Its design complies with the LEED Environmental Product Declaration, which provides credit for building materials while enabling reductions for energy, water, waste, and emissions reductions.
A distinctive connecting bridge and a tunnel will also be built from the terminal to the existing airside centre core.
Terminal and connector bridge – artist’s impression
The new facility will include ‘state-of-the-art’ TSA screening and baggage check-in and claim facilities.
New covered parking facilities will be supported by a new roadway system and a dedicated ground transportation centre, providing space for up to 3,300 vehicles, in addition to an area for approximately 900 rental cars.
The design focus is on technology, environmental requirements, and above all – on user health
What is of particular note about the terminal is that the main focus – apart from keeping costs down for airlines and the usual environmental requirements – will be on public health and technology. The new facilities will prioritise social distancing, clean air ventilation and outdoor spaces.
It is always wise to get the public on board with any new development that employs new technology, or which is environmentally focused to any degree. The reason is that polls taken in First World countries often suggest that while respondents are keen to see environmental support measures introduced generically – they are much less likely to do so when those measures have a direct impact on them.
So alongside the ‘tech’ and health-focused elements in the design that are detailed below, the terminal has also been conceived with ‘passenger experience’ in mind, which means a commitment to stable airline costs maintained for passengers that are reflective of the region’s economy.
The Airport Authority has also said that a new industry-led standard will be adopted at the terminal, to break down barriers to increase equal access and opportunities for small business and people from all ethnic backgrounds. These practices are becoming commonplace in the US, and especially so at the New York airports.
‘Social distancing’ might seem anachronistic now, but that might not be the case again in the future
The terminal is the first in the US to be built from scratch in a ‘post-pandemic’ world.
PIT is not unique in its health focus, although few airports have openly committed to prioritising health in their planning for new or refurbished terminals.
Depending on which way you look at it, emphasising ‘social distancing’ and ventilation in an airport now is either prudent planning for a dystopian future in which other viruses cause mayhem on an even greater scale (and thus prepares the airport to handle greater numbers of passengers than ill-prepared ones); or is a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
CAPA reported on a similar development at the Clark International Airport north of Manila in the Philippines in The Philippines’ Clark International Airport’s new terminal: a child of the COVID-19 pandemic in May-2022, describing it as ‘a child of the pandemic.’
Specifically, the design will see the new terminal including clean air technology in the form of bespoke ventilation systems, physically larger areas to allow for optimised social distancing and four outdoor terrace areas where passengers can actually wait en plein air for their flight or for visitors to arrive.
PIT will also integrate technologies that have been piloted in the existing terminal, including ultraviolet-enhanced floor-scrubbing robots, CO2 reduction filters and state-of-the-art ionisation in HVAC systems. It will eliminate equipment with CFC-based refrigerants.
Specifically, the design will mean that the new terminal includes clean air technology in the form of bespoke ventilation systems, physically larger areas to allow for optimised social distancing, and four outdoor terrace areas where passengers can actually wait 'en plein air' for their flight or for visitors to arrive.
PIT will also integrate technologies that have been piloted in the existing terminal, including ultraviolet-enhanced floor-scrubbing robots, C02 reduction filters and state-of-the-art ionisation in HVAC systems. It will eliminate equipment with CFC-based refrigerants.
The terminal will be an elevated, three-tier structure incorporating a natural wood ceiling and multi-level glass windows, which have been selected to allow in as much natural light as possible.
PIT has concluded a partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the regulatory agency of the US Department of Labor, with which it will work to reduce site hazards and injuries, as well as increasing the sustainability of the project.
Passenger processing time to be reduced by 50%
Technology being the second key focus area, it will be used to streamline passenger operations, including ticketing, security checkpoints, and baggage claim.
The terminal has been designed to reduce passenger travel and processing time by 50% from drop-off to airside, while also adhering to its ‘greater space’ principle – which is no mean trick.
Solar panels will power the terminal
Where the environment is concerned, the new terminal will be powered by a microgrid, which is fuelled by 10,000 solar panels as well as five natural gas generators. During its construction a minimum of 75% of waste produced – including concrete – will be recycled or reused where possible.
Despite the wrecking ball effect of the pandemic on the aviation industry, many airports – and especially those in the US, where domestic routes kept airports going to a far greater degree than other world regions – have been working on new or refurbished terminal designs throughout the lengthy period of travel restrictions.