University Update

Issue Date: 
May 26, 2009

To:        Members of the University Community

From:       Mark A. Nordenberg

Date:       April 30, 2009

Re:        Rebuilding Pittsburgh’s Air Service

Fifteen years ago, Clark Kerr—who, during his distinguished career, had served as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, president of the University of California system, and chair of the Carnegie Council on Higher Education—wrote a book entitled Troubled Times for American Higher Education: The 1990s and Beyond. It is a volume that I have found to be a source of many useful insights

In a chapter entitled “The New Race to Be Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford,” Chancellor Kerr avoids specific predictions about rising institutions but identifies a number of factors, tied to location, that could aid particular universities in their quest to become comparatively stronger. Pittsburgh was identified as an advantageous location for three different reasons: as a “renovating center” of economic activity, because of its “aggressive industrial leadership,” and as one of “the larger cities that are hubs for jet airlines so that faculty can come and go.”

Any comments that I might make about the first two of those factors will need to wait for another day. However, as now is painfully clear to all of us, Pittsburgh’s loss of its “hub status” has made it far less convenient for members of our administration, faculty, and staff to discharge responsibilities requiring either domestic or international air travel.

What may be less clear to many of us is that the consequences of the dramatic reduction in air service that this region has experienced in recent years extend well beyond whether our own people can easily “come and go.” This service reduction also represents a very real limitation on economic growth, and, in the end, the progress of our University is tied to the economic strength and general vitality of our home region.

I have been especially surprised by the level of priority that has been assigned to nonstop air service between Pittsburgh and Europe by firms—from manufacturers to professional service providers—that are headquartered here but that have a sizeable international component to their business. Nonstop flights to and from Europe itself are very important to those organizations but so is the fact that direct connections can be made from most major European cities to important business destinations in other parts of the world. In private conversations, some major regional employers, with current leadership that is very loyal to Pittsburgh, have gone so far as to predict that without such nonstop air connections, their companies almost certainly will be forced to move their headquarters to some better-served region.

Having provided that brief sense of context, let me say that the acquisition of the new nonstop airline service to Europe—which starts June 3, when Delta Airlines begins flying nonstop between Pittsburgh and Paris—is a vital component of ongoing efforts to stimulate this region’s economy. Delta was convinced to invest in the implementation of this service through the determined work of political, civic, and corporate leaders, coordinated by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Pitt, as most of you know, is a member of the Allegheny Conference, and we were involved in the efforts to secure a nonstop airline connection between Pittsburgh and Europe.

Now, of course, it is most important that business and leisure travelers going from Pittsburgh to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East take advantage of this service. Obviously, as we make travel plans, each of us will need to consider cost and convenience factors, as we always have. In making those determinations, though, it also is important to remember that developing a base of business that will sustain this service is vital to our home region and also, then, to our University. And in terms of convenience, of course, there are decided practical advantages to avoiding the need to make flight connections in other North American cities when flying back to Pittsburgh from abroad and to clearing customs here.

To provide a bit of additional information, Delta, which is the world’s largest airline, will provide nonstop service to and from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Together with its partner, Air France, Delta can provide connections to more than 100 destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East from Paris. The initial flight schedule is as follows.

Flight 188: Departs Pittsburgh at 6:15 p.m. Arrives in Paris the next day at 8:20 a.m.

Flight 189: Departs Paris at 10:40 a.m. Arrives in Pittsburgh at 1:55 p.m.

Frequency of both flights: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The aircraft to be utilized on this route will be a Boeing 757-200, with seating for up to 174 passengers, including 16 seats in Delta’s business class and 158 seats in its economy class.

As noted, this commitment by Delta could prove to be of enormous economic benefit to our community. Solid usage of these flights will help ensure that convenient nonstop service to Europe remains available to us for years to come. In fact, if this route proves to be successful, it may provide some incentive for others to enter the market. On the other hand, if this effort fails, it seems unlikely that any other carrier will consider Pittsburgh for nonstop international flights for many years to come.

In making travel plans for trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, then, please consider whether this flight service, which has been specifically designed to serve the Pittsburgh region, can meet your needs. Please also spread the word. Our home region stands to benefit from any help that you can provide.