The Allegheny County Airport Authority has outlined its spending priorities for next year, hoping to make improvements to Pittsburgh International Airport, while spending more on staff and consultants meant to boost activity there.
The authority board on Friday approved the 2016 budget, which includes operating expenses of $101 million, up 3.4 percent from this year, and about $21 million on capital improvements.
Spending plans include about $42.4 million on employees, up from $40.6 million this year. Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said she is creating new positions, including a revenue manager and senior vice president for business development. Spending on contracts will rise to $6.9 million, up from $4.8 million, which could cover customer feedback surveys or web design.
“We’ve got to focus on continuing to attract new airlines, and we’ve got to focus on listening to our customers and our passengers,” she said. “It’s about bringing in the airlines, and modernizing the facility.”
Such improvements are happening in a piecemeal fashion this year, with an ongoing terrazzo floor project set to finish later this month, and new carpeting and layouts in the baggage claim level. One challenge in deciding what projects to pursue, Cassotis said, is the sheer size of the airport, built as a hub to handle 20 million passengers annually. Last year there were about 8 million passengers.
“We don’t want to make investments in parts of the facility that may not be necessary going forward,” Cassotis said.
Overall, the airport’s list of capital improvements totals about $48 million. But next year the authority will choose to spend just about $21 million on improvements ranging from upgrades to gates and ticketing counters to facility heating and cooling systems. Decisions are flexible, said James Gill, chief operating officer, especially as the officials await completion of a master plan next year.
The airport’s cost for every passenger who boards a plane will be down two cents to $12.88, the lowest it’s been since 2008. The cost has wavered from year to year, and Gill said the goal is to keep it steady. Gill said the airport carries $254 million in debt as of September, which prevents that number from declining much for now.
“We’ve got a big mortgage to pay that we’ve never been able to walk away from with a much smaller denomination of passengers,” he said.
The airport serves about 51 nonstop destinations, though it will lose American Airlines service to Hartford and St. Louis in November. The cuts, determined by regional carrier Trans States, are the result of a national pilot shortage.
Cassotis said the loss of flights damages the airport’s finances through loss of passengers, parking and terminal spending, and the landing fees for the planes. Cassotis said she is focused on talking to carriers about adding destinations.
“Unfortunately, mid-sized airports, the airports of our size, are the ones that get impacted,” she said. “This industry is constantly in a state of change, we have to expect that, and we just always want to be ready for the opportunity to jump on something.”