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FAA Reauthorization A Mixed Bag For Pittsburgh International Airport

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The airside terminal of Pittsburgh International Airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport didn't get everything it wanted in a recent five-year, $97 billion reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The sweeping package, signed by President Donald Trump in October, will fund the FAA through 2023. 

Despite pressure from the airport industry, Congress failed to raise the $4.50 passenger facility charge, which is included in each airline ticket.  Vince Gastgeb, the vice president for community and government affairs for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, said airports rely on that money to make terminal upgrades that air travelers see every day.

“[Upgrades like] the flooring, the lighting, the new furniture ... the customer experience, [as well as] changes to the Customs and Border Patrol area and the auxiliary check points for the TSA,” Gastgeb said.

He said in recent years, the airport had been using the user fee money to pay down debt, at the expense of some facility upgrades.

Although that fee wasn't raised, the reauthorization does ease some regulatory burdens, including allowing airports to use the fee to pay for large infrastructure projects, like the new $1.1 billion landside terminal planned at Pittsburgh International. That project is expected to break ground in late 2019.

In addition, Gastgeb said airports were able to defeat a so-called “Flags of Convenience” amendment in the legislation that would have curbed access to international carriers who use the Pittsburgh airport.

Among other key provisions in the new law:

  • Airlines are barred from bumping a passenger who is already seated on an airplane
  • The FAA is required to set minimum seat widths and the distance between rows of seats.
  • New regulations are imposed on the recreational use of drones
  • Animals are not permitted to be stored in an airplane's overhead compartment
  • In-flight cell phone calls and e-cigarettes are prohibited

One major provision was defeated when lawmakers abandoned a proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

Maria Gabriel Scapellato began her radio career at a commercial radio station in Harrisburg in 1985. Later, she moved to WITF 89.5 FM as the local host of All Things Considered, returning to Pittsburgh in 1992, where she has since worked in both radio and television at various Pittsburgh stations as a general assignment reporter. Originally from West Mifflin in the Mon Valley, she studied Journalism at West Virginia University.