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Airport Authority CEO Provides Terminal Modernization Project Update and More

Business as Usual

As air travel begins to rebound and work gets underway on the $1.4 billion Terminal Modernization Program (TMP), Pittsburgh International Airport is buzzing with news and activity.

We welcome Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority, to Business as Usual to provide us updates on new flights, cargo service, passenger numbers and the TMP.

In March, the airlines agreed to fund $182 million in construction site prep work for the TMP, an effort to build a new 700,000-square-foot terminal that consolidates ticketing, security checkpoints and baggage claim, and multi-modal complex that includes a new parking garage, rental car facilities and entrance roadways designed to improve the passenger experience.

Pittsburgh International Airport is one of our region's most important resources to drive growth and innovation. Join us for what will be an informative and engaging conversation.



So great, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. This is Audrey Russo. I am thrilled to be here president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, and also a nonprofit called 40. By 80, which is the longitude and latitude of Pittsburgh, you'll hear more about 40 by 80. Pretty soon, pretty soon about some of the work we're doing and apprenticeships and finding new pathways for people who don't necessarily matriculate to college, but have other opportunities to be part of the technology ecosystem. I'd like to give a shout out to Huntington bank each and every time we have the show, I just am blown away by the support. They continue to give us and believe in us in terms of every experiment that we run, and all the stories that we tell and all the fun that we have and making sure that people highlight what's happening here. So get to know your folks at Huntington bank, Susie Shipley entertainment has just been amazing. So we've muted your microphones. And Jonathan Kersting is here with us as he is every day. And he's the Vice President of all things marketing, and storytelling, and t Q magazine, and you name it, he has been telling stories and shining the light on innovators across Southwestern Pennsylvania, for way too long. And we're thrilled to have him, he's going to be monitoring the chat. And the chat is to be used not for you to sell your wares today is all about our guests. And it is all about the airport. That is it will be plenty of time for us to shine the light on your own companies and to sell your wares and other ways. So we are thrilled to have Christina sodas. And we've also muted to just for just in case, you haven't noticed that. So we're trying to keep the sound down in the background. And hopefully my dogs will behave today as well. So what I'm thrilled to introduce she's been on the show before she's a good friend to the tech community. And that's no BS, she's been a good friend, right from the onset, we've worked on many things together. We are big cheerleaders and supportive of the airport. As everyone knows, it matters to all of us. And COVID definitely was a trying time. But what we're going to talk about today are probably some of those things. But there's a lot of amazing things going on behind the scenes and actually right in front of our noses. And so I'm really thrilled to bring on Christina sodus. Good friend, as I mentioned earlier, and the leader of the International Airport, and all things that relate to that side of the world, because there's other things going on that you might not know about that we're going to talk about today. So enough of me and I'm gonna welcome Christina, thank you so much for being back taking the time with us. I know that you're busy as hell, and you being with us really makes a difference to me, my team and to the tech community. So but there's breaking news, right? There's breaking news that Brian Kennedy sent me as of yesterday, that I mean, even a couple of hours ago that the Transportation Security Administration, also known as the TSA, they have reported that they screened more than 1.6 million air travelers yesterday, yesterday, Sunday. So that's a high since the beginning of March 2020. I actually have goosebumps, Christina thinking about that, because I'm pretty. I'm pretty excited. So we're not out of the woods yet. So first of all, I want to say how the heck Have you been?

Well, first of all, really happy to be here. Thank you all. It's great to see you and Brian and Jonathan and the team. I am a big fan of the tech Council, as you said that my first talk ever in Pittsburgh was to the tech council six weeks after I got here. I've always I've always remembered that and a lot of the people that I met there, so how have I been, we've been busy and and putting one foot in front of the other for part of this right just in the in the early days when traffic plummeted by 95%. And it really did feel exceedingly eerie out here for a prolonged period of time.

We have just been figuring out how to get work done anyway. So as you said a lot going on with the airport with the real estate development. And with our general aviation airport, we're just we're very busy.

So, you know, listen, how are we doing today? I mean, let's just talk about today comparison.

So we're we're seeing a travel return. And I'm not surprised that that those numbers were so impressive yesterday, relatively speaking with GSA so Sundays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays are incredibly busy travel days throughout the country and here in Pittsburgh, mostly driven by leisure, we're back to just Over 50% recovering, which is great, we're very happy about that. Yeah, no Yay. And a lot of that, as I'm sure many of you can attest to his, his leisure people are getting on planes. There's more service to Florida now than we've ever had. We've got airlines that are not used to flying point to point to Florida like American and united offering service. They're getting into the leisure game. So we're seeing, we're seeing, you know, flights with 100% load factors and people being asked if they want to, you know, take a credit to take a later flight. Yeah. It's good. It's, it's, um, it's on its way back. I have traveled for business. I actually wrote about it in Blue Sky News. Yeah, very fact that I forgot to know how to pack which was fascinating. And, and, and we are seeing some business travelers come in, we are definitely seeing business travelers come in midweek. Taxi trips are up. Our Uber and Lyft. trips are up, rental cars are up slightly, but still good news. That's

great. That's great news. I know that relatively speaking, it's not great news, but it really is great news. And there's pent up demand for there has to be pent up demand for leisure travel. I can't Oh, yeah. Isn't it isn't

everybody dying to go somewhere? I

mean, you know, I,

I love this community. And

I'm very grateful that I've had a place to hunker down. But I'm really eager to get back on the road. And I and I know a lot of people are so we're so we're, we're prepared for that. Great. That's great. So let you know you're in the middle. And as I made, you know, sort of an inference to you're in the middle of a pretty significant update, you know, actually, the first significant update in the terminal. And I don't know, over 25 years, 30 years, right, 30 years. So now let's talk about the vision for that. Let's talk about the vision and how has the pandemic actually allowed you to adapt your plans or if any, you know what's changed?

Sure, so so just to take a good wayback machine for a minute, we are not here six years ago, the team was in the middle of a master plan looking at Do we have the right facilities for the future. And we settled on we because we have to do something this terminal is coming to end of life, it's almost 30 years old, we need to make major upgrades to a lot of the systems, as I've said to your group, eight miles of bag belts and connecting the two terminals, there's a lot to maintain. So we either have to fix what we have, or we have to do something new, we can't do both. We don't have enough money to do both. So we picked let's do something new, which means that we will build a new pre security terminal up next to where the gates are. And the train goes away eventually. And this building that I'm sitting in right now with the ticket counters in the baggage claim goes away event or gets repurposed. We haven't decided yet. So what we're going to so we were supposed to break ground last April, the airlines were supposed to sign the new agreement, their new lease had their lease had expired after 30 years, and they were supposed to sign a new one. And you can imagine what they said to us last year, we have a few other things on our mind, and you're not at the top of our list. They said that to almost every airport. So we took the occasion, once we realized we really it wasn't going to be over in a month or two, we took the occasion to really scrub the design from a public health lens. We met with public health officials, with leaders in the with the leaders in the public health field, and we said is this terminal ready to go for God forbid if this happens, again, what changes if any Do we need to make so that we can be useful during this time? So we spent a year doing that? And I can I'm very happy to say that we have started on our early site access package. We're getting the facility ready with fingers crossed, hoping to break ground in the fall.

So that's what does it mean getting ready? Can you can you tell us a little bit? Yeah,

so the early sight access package is putting up the fencing. It's it's taking up some of the concrete on the west ramp. So if you were if you've ever had lunch or dinner or breakfast or a drink at Fridays, you know that back part that has like a you can see out onto the airfield. If you were to look out all that concrete is eventually going to come up because that's where the new terminal is going to get built. We have to cap a fuel line. So right now, there's a fuel line that that that goes all around the X of the airside terminal and you've got to cap it to where the new building is going in. Because obviously we don't want to be building near an active fuel line. So that's called the early sight access package. And it's getting it's getting the the campus ready to start building.

So I'm going to ask you one more question. Then we're going to go over to some of the questions in the chat. Sure. So you're also I just want to just talk quickly about neighborhood 91. And, you know, we've been You know, involved in trying to figure out ways to be helpful there, you've landed at least one major tenant, talk about the vision and talk about what that means. And then we're going to go over into ask answering some questions. Sure.

So I'll say two things and one, related to neighborhood 91. The first is that we intend for that neighborhood to have access to redundant, resilient energy, powered by responsible natural gas and solar, and that is through a micro grid that we are about to flip on that will power the entire airport. Within a matter of weeks. This is a partnership with buyers. Yeah, it's it's, it's really I think we're going to be the first airport in the world that will be off the grid with the grid as the backup. And and we're really proud of that. The team has been incredible people's natural gas has been an incredible partner could not have worked out any better. So that we also did that during the pandemic, neighborhood. 91 is 195 acre campus on airport property. So if you drive out to the airport, you see the Sunoco station on your left, look up to the right, that land is neighborhood 91. And the idea is to co locate all parts of the additive manufacturing system, 3d printing. So right now that says that parts of that system are scattered throughout the United States. So if you print a part in one city, you have to send it somewhere else to heat treated and somewhere else to finish it. We want all the parts in one neighborhood, 90 unique neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, this is the 91st. So that's the name neighborhood 91. We have a number of tenants. webtech certainly is our big anchor tenant, as is Aaron sibiya, which is an argon gas recycler and producer as well as resolved, and they will be using our power to production storage facility as their us operations base. We have letters of intent with another 25 companies that represent all parts of the system. And what we're really hoping to do we intend to do we will do is we're going to make this the US headquarters for additive manufacturing in the United States in partnership, the research and development at Hazelwood green and a lot of the work being done at Carnegie Mellon. And so it's really sort of the whole ecosystem. Make sense here in Pittsburgh, including the production and that's the intention.

Yeah, it's, it's really exciting. And the other thing is, for people who are listening, the amount of efficiencies that one can achieve from all of everyone being together in one cluster has just been unchartered before. So that's what I get excited about. So I am going to, I want to pass the baton to Jonathan to ask some of the questions. But I just want to tell you, just in terms of branding, I had a friend this weekend, and I always talk about 90 neighborhoods, and the whole time I talked about 91 neighborhoods. Oh, thank you. Oh, that brand really did stick with me. Okay, so

kudos to my marketing team for that one. I

know, right? I kept saying Why? Why do I keep saying? So it's great. So Jonathan, can you look out some questions or some? Let's get to some of them.

We got some great, Christina. It's always awesome. Glad to have you on the show. We're gonna start from the top here. Start with dawn Morrison wants to know, do you see COVID vaccination passports as the price for current and normal travel?


I think let's take a look at the history in this country, we couldn't even get everybody to wear a mask, it may work for international and that's going to get driven by international border agencies requiring that for for entry into their countries. That's what we are expecting from some countries. And that will then force the airlines to require it. But there there aren't too many airlines out there saying, Oh, you know, what we really wish we could do? It's tough to enforce. And it's it's just it's not so I don't see it ever happening for domestic just to be clear.

So Jonathan Hart wants to know, um, what's the status with international carriers, especially excited about the British Airways service? When's it coming back? Well, we

are we have been in constant touch with all of our airline partners throughout the pandemic international included. There was talk about VA coming back this summer, and for all of you believe me, I would be one who would wish that would happen. I can't we can't have them come back and not succeed. So we're looking for next spring for the restart of the British Airways service back to four times a week year round. We really really need that to succeed because because if it doesn't, then it doesn't bode well for us attracting other carriers. So my expectation is that ba will be back next spring. We expect to see the can't come and services already restarted. Canada has everything to do with when they reopen the border. We think that's going to be in July. We expect more Mexico flying, eventually. And we're looking at parts of Europe like Germany to to understand what the state of the airlines is over there. You know, this has been pretty tough. This pandemic has gutted the travel industry, as you can imagine. So, so where were we, as soon as we know will tell,

let me jump in. I'm passing on again. So isn't it true in France, that the there's intro flying? That has actually been somewhat sunset and that they're pushing people to rail?

I, I'm not following that, honestly, because we don't we haven't had service to Paris in quite some time. That's possible. But I you know, I and there, there are different issues in in France that have to do with their airline than other countries. So I don't have a good answer for that one. Sorry.

Okay, good. Jonathan.

We got Carlos Trevino. Here, one of our favorite people. He's a really good question here. He says a wall street journal article this past Saturday says there are 19 new airlines launching in 2021. That's kind of mind blowing. Like a velo or,

why not in the US.

Yeah. And so what are the opportunities for the Pittsburgh International Airport to capitalize on this?

Well, to that there are two in the US Veilleux and breeze that are interesting to us. So, breeze is being started by David Neeleman. He's a serial airline entrepreneur, he in his 20s, started an airline called Morris air, which he sold to Southwest Airlines. He decided he wasn't really good at working for somebody else. And he had non compete. So we went to Canada, and he started westjet got that up and running, then came to the US. And he started JetBlue. And then went to Brazil, and he started a zoo. And now he's back in the US with this new airline called breeze, which is really about connecting midsize and smaller communities to each other without having to go through hubs, new aircraft technology has made that more cost effective. So my expectation is that Pittsburgh is a good market for breeze. And eventually for a Veilleux because that's really what we're seeing is we're seeing the startup of ultra low cost carriers.

Okay, I can go

and talk to any aspirational airports that you look up to that sets an example for our airport here.

Yeah, we are constantly benchmarking ourselves. And we have been since the minute I got here, I am very aware of the fact that people from Pittsburgh travel all over the world and have a pretty good idea of what great airports look like. We look to Singapore changhie for innovation and tech, we look to Heathrow for a lot of the food beverage service retailing and service offerings, excuse me. Same thing with Hong Kong, we we look to San Francisco for local right Portland, Oregon for local and how that shows up how you feel like you landed there when you get there. So there are a lot of airports around the world that we benchmark ourselves against and stay in touch with in order to share information.

Excellence can keep on going here and we got a couple more

done. Keep some good questions. I like this last one from Joe about the health the health passport and go into the Bahamas. Okay,

let's let's jump on that line.

Yeah, what's the question?

So just check with the health passport is required for travel to the Bahamas? He has a timeshare there apparently, maybe. Haiti requires a COVID-19 test five days prior to travel or proof of full vaccination. Any any thoughts around that type of a way to get people safe and traveling? Yeah, that's,

like I said, it's up to each country, right that the countries are the ones imposing that. And what I can tell you is that there are some cases where you will not be able to get your boarding pass unless you have that proof. So and that's usually where our staff gets involved because somebody comes up and says, What do I do about this? There's not a lot we can do to help you right you if you if that's what the if that's what the country is, is requiring, then that's what you're going to need to have with you.

Okay, good. Um, anything else? Jonathan? There's a whole bunch of questions there.

Like another one just popped in. This is like on fire day, Christina Mike has been for Monday or waking us up. I love it. From Marian Howard says you're focused on point to point travel for the Pittsburgh airport. COVID seems to be impacting people's desire to remove connections from their travel. Can you speak to how you think COVID will impact the airline industry we're certain airports have relied upon connections like Atlanta and Charlotte, Dallas,

right? Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake, there's a lot of airports. I want everybody I know I know everybody still is smarting over US Airways pulling out I can tell you that at one point. On a very big call with all airport CEOs. We get on we get on the phone with each other. In the beginning, it was every other week. Now it's once a month. And somebody from Philadelphia said, has anybody thought about what it means to have all these flights go away suddenly? And I think, yeah. Hi, Christine. We've done right. So I can tell you that it was a big wake up call for the hubs. Right? This was this is huge. They've got huge infrastructure to support like we do. So what do i think i think that the airlines are gonna go back to trying to get you to connect the the network carriers, United American and delta, it's more cost effective for them. But that's why we're seeing these startups. That's why Brees is coming in. That's why availa is coming in. And that's why spirit right now is our third largest carrier by passing. It has it has a lot to do with that. It's also why united added service this summer, to Charleston, Hilton Head Pensacola and Portland, Maine, right is because they're they know that people are not going to go through the hubs and they're there. They're trying to use that aircraft. As often as that's how the money that's how they make money is when the aircraft's flying, if it's sitting on the ground that snowed?

Well, I can't tell you, I was surprised at how many people wrote me how excited they were about the Portland, Maine. directly. I didn't realize, I know you wouldn't write. But I was thinking I could see. I could see you coming from the north, you know, from the northeast, but I am surprised at how many people have homes up.

Yeah, me too. I've heard from a lot of people to who were very grateful. So I hope it's successful.

Do you think that like if you imagine in your crystal ball in terms of the pivot here is that maybe we're just mostly going to fly and fly a lot. But it's going to be a lot of leisure? For the short term.

No question. That's, that's

what's driving it. I'm telling you, you there's so much there's so much leisure flying Vegas in Orlando, those airports are expected to be busier this year than pre pandemic.

Right. So, right.

So, but, but for the rest of the world, I think, you know, company by company, there are certain companies that are back on the road, we've hosted events out here for corporate travel planners as well, the air, the airlines and corporate travel planners have come out to see what we're doing for safety measures, so they can feel comfortable. So I know that people are traveling again, but but not nearly to the extent that they were before for business.

I mean, my feeling is that people will think 100 times before they need to send people. You know, I know that's not a happy thing. But I, I imagined that we're going to be packed with leisure, I think the flight, the planes are just going to be packed.

I do too. But at some point, and I've said this repeatedly, and I stand by it at some point, I promise you, you are not getting away with these video calls. If your competitors are on the road.

I think that

there will be a tipping point it's going to come back it always does. How many times I've heard about this is it business travel is over? You know, we've had we've been through this before it's not over, it's just gonna take longer to come back.

Well, I think that international business travel will will pick up that was my other pair to the question was that it was International, because that's, it's really hard to develop those relationships and understand the differences with international business travel, where we might be able to get away with short spurts in this virtual world. Yeah, you know, I'm excited. I'm excited to hear the growth. What about small companies and about innovation and opportunities at the new terminal? You knew I was gonna ask you something. Yeah, opportunities are? Yeah, we've

had some great partnerships with folks in in, certainly who are members of the tech Council. And what I can tell you is, and I want to say this, in the kindest way possible, we are inundated with people who are like, Can I just run an idea I need it. And I and with all due respect. I'm getting that from around the world. And and so what I'll tell you is Pitt transformed comm is our website, if you sign up, you'll get every notice about everything. Oh, good.

Yep, we'll put that up there. Okay,

get transformed, calm. And then the other thing is blue sky pit calm is our new service that tends to cover what's going on, we are definitely going to be in the market for more innovation products, services processes. So I'd say stay tuned. But we've had a great we've had a great run with Carnegie robotics, with the

cleaning yet with

the cleaning. And and we're really excited about partnering with more especially local companies, because we see this as part of our mission is to highlight Pittsburgh's assets to a world audience. Oh, absolutely.

You've been wonderful doing that through blue sky and all the ball everywhere that you go and talk. You've been a tremendous ambassador. Jonathan, are there a few more questions to grab?

Let me see here. Yeah, there's me scroll through the list. So what elements of smart tech will be incorporated into the new terminal project

isn't any as possible? All right. So look, we know how we know how people Live these days, right? It's, it's, it's on this. And it's it's with an expectation, around touchless, around health, around public, looking at the world through a public health lens. So I will tell you that we are trying to incorporate enough flexibility so that when the building opens in three years, we can't even imagine what is possible then, right. So we want to make sure that we've got the type of building envelope that will allow for whatever's coming. In the meantime, that's what we're in the middle of right now is figuring out what that looks like everything from, you know, smart building technology, we have a great partnership with Honeywell around air quality monitoring, which I think is really exciting. And we're pioneering that with them. Our x bridge, which is our innovation space at the end of one. Yep, the x bridge, that Honeywell is signed up for that we've got more announcements coming about partners for that. And that's really a place for people to test ideas. But you can imagine we we got a lot going on. So we're trying to figure out how what the governance structure of that looks like,

could we have a party out there? Could we host a party?

I don't want to commit because I'm sure somebody on the phone is saying don't say yes, until we know, but possibly.

Maybe it would seem like a great thing.

Totally agree. We're gonna need some critical mass first. Yes, I expect lots of tours of the space over the time of the building. And I'll tell you, I'm going to put a plug in for workforce, we really see, this is a large public works project in western Pennsylvania. And we see this is a wonderful opportunity to open up jobs to lots of people, lots and lots of people who can come out here and understand what it means to work at an airport. And we see some tremendous opportunities to see the trades benefit from lots of diverse talents.

So one of the things that always comes up when I see it came up here is how do we have some sort of transit to and from the city to the airport? I know we asked Catherine Hellman the same question, right?

Well, she she has delete it. We are not by federal law. We are not allowed to pay for that. Just so everybody understands. I can only pay for the part that hits the airport. Right wouldn't make a whole lot of I will tell you this. We've left flexibility for a train to come right in.

Yeah. And so she hears it from us, too. And we have her on as well. So just you talking to Catherine, you keep talking to her? Absolutely. So we talked about innovation, we talked about neighborhood 91. We talked about the new project at the airport, we talked about travel in terms of business and leisure. What do you think we missed out? on asking you about Hi, guy, really, this

has been a really intense half an hour? I don't know, I think you've covered a lot. I think that there's a lot of opportunity out here, I think that we haven't the most thing, the thing that I'm most excited about is that the airport is a huge economic generator for the region, and this region gets it I love working here because I have colleagues around the world who are who don't get the support from their community that I get here in Pittsburgh. And people really care about this airport. And it shows. So for that, I would say thank you to everybody who called in everybody who has questions. And everybody who's helped us along the way in in in thinking about this new project.

Well, I mean, seriously, you have been very open to the tech community, you've been very open to new ideas that have come your way. And you've been very clear about the things that make sense and don't make sense. So you have we have a lot of people who are asking one question after another lots of things in there. I don't know if we can get to anything. Is there time for one more question, Jonathan.

Let's squeeze one more in there. Yeah, let's see here. Um, the open I wrote my list here. So any any idea about learning from some of the stakes of airports like salt lake city?

Oh, my God. I have a

I have a kitchen cabinet that consists of airport directors, from Boston to Dallas to Salt Lake to LA x to Seattle. We do not do anything in a vacuum. We console. These folks have come in there. I call them my kitchen cabinet. And they come in they have looked at the designs they have pushed against. They have pushed against this project from day one. Yes, we are learning from their mistakes. We are taking grateful from people from around the world who have built airports. Great question. Thank

you. Yeah, that is a great question. So thank you, I think is there anything else? So Jonathan, I have time for like, just,

I've got lots of comments. So

comments, just Is there a question of Christina, I

think we're good man. We should wind this thing is super.

Thank you. So everyone, we put the links out there that Christina made reference to if you have any questions, just reach out to myself or Brian Kennedy or Jonathan. We'll figure out a way Way to create pathways. As you heard from Christina, she's got lots of inputs, lots of inputs that are coming her way. She's prioritizing them. And I think we covered what are the big priorities for her. So first of all, everyone fly, get vaccinated, get vaccinated, don't be afraid of taking a COVID test to and fro wherever you going, go see people get, you know, even if it's a direct flight, I know there's hesitancy in terms of people, you know, changing from one flight to the next. But there's lots of direct flights. People love most of the destinations that we're flying to right now. So I think we're in good shape. I would like to see us at full capacity this summer. I would, and what is the number look like at the airport where you would feel good, what is that that number I wave, we're

back to two thirds flying, I'm going to be thrilled. Yeah, for this year, I'd be thrilled. Just because we have a listen, we have a really good mix of business and leisure in this community. So so if we get to two thirds, I think that's a really good, a really good sign for this community. And because I'm not worried about us in the long run.

Okay, so maybe what we'll make a commitment is to share that data point, like on a weekly bear.

Yeah, we haven't. We give it to visit Pittsburgh, we send out our information. So

Aaron as well. Yep. That's great. So thank you, Christina. Thanks for taking the time with us during lunch to just hang out and share and talk and give us your energy and your thoughts. Rock on. Stay safe. Thank you for everything to your team, and for neighborhood 91 and everything else that you're doing out there. Well, thank you all.

Good to see you guys. Brian.

Jonathan. Thank you, Audrey. Thank you. What do we have up this week? What's going on this week? Jonathan.

We have one of Brian Brickhouse stopping by tomorrow. This guy is the president of electrical systems at Eaton. So man, he's a huge company. Lots of opportunity there. If you don't tune in, I don't know what to tell you.

Okay. All right. Well, thanks everyone. Stay safe.

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