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Airport Authority Board Votes To Prohibit Members From Investing In Airlines

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
The board of the Allegheny County Airport Authority held its September meeting at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin. Once the region’s only airport, it now serves private planes.";

On Friday the board of the Allegheny County Airport Authority voted to prohibit members from directly investing in airlines.

The amendment to the authority’s administrative policy handbook comes after two board members, Jan Rea and vice chairman Robert Lewis, acknowledged their investments in OneJet.

The airport authority has brought a lawsuit against OneJet for failing to meet the terms of its 2016 contract, which promised 10 destinations and new markets. OneJet was granted $1 million in incentives to do so. The airline announced last month that it would suspend all flights until October.

Before the new ethics policy came up for a vote, board chairman David Minnotte read a statement saying the board reviewed the issue of investments in airlines and was confident that past board practices had been ethical and legal.

“I want to make it clear that I requested a policy to ensure that we are always above reproach and that we adopt a policy that would preclude us from investing in airlines on a direct basis," Minnotte said.

Rae and Lewis have until the next board meeting, Oct. 19, to divest from OneJet or resign. Authority solicitor Jeff Letwin said he would ask them to sign a short letter confirming their divestment; he does not intend to ask other authority members to confirm they have no direct investments.

Letwin said the board didn't need a specific policy disallowing investment in airlines before. 

“We have relationships with airlines, we’re not governing them, so it’s not really, it was not ever really viewed as necessary,” he said. “I think the only thing that caused reconsideration is because we’re giving these incentives that now have a greater impact on the whole relationship with airlines.”

Letwin added that the Pennsylvania Ethics Act only requires officials to disclose financial interests of five percent or more. He said neither board members’ investments amounted to that much, to the best of his knowledge.

The authority's policy handbook begins, "The concept of 'ethical behavior' is hard to define, but all of us know it when we see it and we know it when we do not." 

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said her office would undertake a review of meeting minutes and financial records to see if other potential conflicts of interest have occurred.

“As the airport embarks on a $1 billion building project that could present ample opportunities for self-dealing and favoritism, we must use the tools at our disposal to shine light on this authority’s actions,” Wagner said in a statement.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.