For several months now, a notable trend has emerged out of Pittsburgh International Airport.
The number of passengers coming and going through the doors of the region’s largest airport continues to trend upward slightly to prepandemic levels, hovering at around 85% of the traffic that was last seen before Covid-19 emerged. PIT’s traffic figure is one that’s not far off from national travel demand, which sits at about 95% of prepandemic levels across the country.
Meanwhile, cargo operations at PIT, which have been a bright spot for the airport since the pandemic’s onset as larger hubs like those of New York and Chicago faced bottlenecks and supply chain hurdles, have continued to slip for numerous months in a row.
Subjects blamed months ago are the same ones being cited now: Staffing shortages throughout the aviation industry are limiting the number of planes that can fly, rising fuel prices are increasing costs of plane tickets leading to a decreased demand from some travelers and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine — now spanning its ninth month — is causing headwinds in the global aviation industry that Pittsburgh isn’t immune from.
But despite this, Christina Cassotis, the CEO of PIT’s managing organization — the Allegheny County Airport Authority, remains optimistic the airport will rebound soon and has predicted that PIT will see 100% or more of its prepandemic passenger travel levels within the next year. She’s also inclined to believe that PIT’s recent cargo woes are only temporary.
“We are also very bullish on the fact that our demand environment continues to be strong, both in leisure and in business,” Cassotis said during the ACAA’s monthly board meeting on Friday. “We’re seeing the strong results of the summer actually carrying over into the fall and winter seasons in a way we have not seen before. So that’s good news.”
Over 695,000 passengers traveled through PIT in September, a nearly 16% increase in the number of passengers who did the same year-over-year. Traffic at PIT is up 37% year-to-date through September compared to the same time period year-to-date last year.
American Airlines Group Inc. held the largest market share of passengers out of all carriers, flying 24.2% of PIT’s passengers last month. Southwest Airlines Co. followed in a close second place with 23.9% of PIT’s total traffic, while Delta Air Lines Inc. carried 17.4% of PIT’s traffic in September.
“Despite the fact that it is more expensive to fly these days, people are still taking advantage of the capacity that’s here and it’s not enough, we need more,” Cassotis said. “That has everything to do again with the fact that there aren’t enough 1,500-hour-rated pilots to fly the commercial equipment that we need to meet demand.”
As for cargo, PIT saw a 26% decrease in September, and overall operations are down 6.7% year-to-date compared to the same time period last year.
“We’re not too concerned about this,” Cassotis said. “If you take a look at all the shocks that hit industries in aviation, we always recover, and we keep going up. So we are paying attention to what’s happening in China, to what’s happening with freight forwarders and supply in the cargo market. And we are continuing to move forward with our plans for Cargo 4 and with Cargo B.”
“We’re doing better than a whole lot of other cargo airports in that regard,” Cassotis added of the 6.7% year-to-date decline in cargo operations at PIT.