Why Pittsburgh’s New Airport Will Be the Right Size for the Future

When the new terminal at Pittsburgh International opens in 2025, it will be the smaller than the original - for good reason.
Current Terminal 2


The New York Times called it the “airport of the future” — the 1.82 million-square-foot terminal complex at Pittsburgh International Airport that opened to great fanfare in 1992. With its landside and airside buildings, underground tram and novel, X-shaped gate courses, the terminal became a model for other airports around the world.

What a difference three decades make. 



Heavy construction is now underway on a $1.4 billion, smaller terminal that promises to take the Steel City into the future by better matching air traffic, passenger volume and purpose.

Comparing the purpose of the future terminal to the current one is like comparing apples to oranges, says Paul Hoback, chief development officer for the Allegheny County Airport Authority. “It will be used completely differently.”

The current terminal, with 75 gates, was built to handle 35 million passengers for what was then a major USAir hub connection. The facility lost that hub in 2004, and in 2019 saw only 9.8 million passengers. Large swaths of the terminal are not being used but still must be maintained. The security checkpoints, with their growing needs, are crammed into spaces too small. 


The purpose of the future, 700,000-square-foot terminal, which broke ground on Oct. 14, is to serve travelers leaving Pittsburgh or flying here from elsewhere — not as a connection hub. The airy design will consolidate ticketing, security checkpoints and baggage claim and at the same time increase the area for concessions and retail — and provide more space for social distancing. 

The terminal will be located between the C and D airside gate concourses; the airport authority, which operates the airport, will share construction videos and photos with the public at blueskypit.com and PITtransformed.com as work progresses.

“It will be a reflection of our city and region,” Hoback says of the future terminal. The design team — Gensler + HDR in association with Luis Vidal + Architects — spent days immersed in the Pittsburgh culture and determined the terminal had to contain three elements: nature, technology and community. 

“It will represent the region’s greatest assets,” he says. “The airport should be a reflection of our vibrant city.”

The future terminal, with 51 gates, is expected to open in early 2025. Designed with flexibility in mind, it will be able to handle 12 million passengers — enough to meet expected demand through 2033 — but could expand to accommodate a much higher number, Hoback says.

The terminal would be powered by the airport’s microgrid, which is fueled by 10,000 solar panels and five natural-gas generators. Officials say no county tax dollars will be used to fund the airport — money will come from natural gas drilling on airport property, rental car fees, passenger facility charges and many other sources.

What will happen to the current landside terminal? That is still to be determined. Hoback says the No. 1 priority is to find another use for it, although $14 million has been set aside to demolish it if necessary. Current plans call for the Hyatt to remain where it is, with access to the new terminal still to be figured out.

Plans for the terminal’s high-tech bells and whistles will evolve as the grand opening nears, he says. Engineers, for example, are now testing touchless technology throughout the current terminal — such as waving a hand to activate elevators instead of pushing buttons. But who knows what not-yet-invented tech will benefit the terminal in three years?  

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