Strong demand upgrades Pittsburgh-to-Paris flight to bigger plane |
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Theresa Clift
Pittsburgh International Airport in May tweeted this photo of ground crews preparing a Delta flight to travel from Pittsburgh to Paris.

Delta’s Pittsburgh-to-Paris service last year had the highest number of passengers per flight since 2014, prompting the carrier to upgrade to a larger plane for the first time since the route began a decade ago.

Officials in 2009 were looking to revitalize Pittsburgh International Airport after it lost its status as a U.S. Airways hub in 2004 and all trans-Atlantic service. A nonstop flight to Paris, a prestigious luxury for mid-size airports, could help set the airport back on the right path, they thought. But it came with a price.

In an agreement, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the state Department of Community and Economic Development agreed to each pay Delta up to $9 million over two years if the flight did not hit revenue projections.

In the first year, the flight lost more than $5 million, so the state and conference each paid $2.5 million. In the second year, the airline hit its goals and the state and conference paid nothing .

Since 2011, the state has not tracked the flight’s revenue, a DCED spokesman said, but airport and airline officials say the flight has been successful.

Last year, 30,704 people took the flights between Pittsburgh and Paris, down from 32,662 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The highest number of passengers per flight was in 2011, but it was available during 10 months that year compared with five months in 2016 and 2017.

The flight last year had the highest average number of passengers per flight, about 131, than in any year since 2014, the data show. In 2016, the flights carried an average of about 115 passengers per flight.

Airport officials suspect the number increased last year partly because service launched to other international destinations last year.

In June, WOW Air launched service to Reykjavik, Iceland, and Condor Airlines launched service to Frankfurt, Germany.

“With the addition of more trans-Atlantic service last year, it stimulates the entire market,” said Bob Kerlik, airport spokesman.

The increase in passengers per Paris flight last year was one reason the airline decided to add a larger plane to the route, said Morgan Durrant, a Delta spokesman.

“We’re running a business, so we really just don’t fly routes that don’t make sense and aren’t viable and one that we don’t see that the communities we serve are responding well to,” Durrant said. “Pittsburgh has been the antithesis of that.”

The carrier now uses a 225-seat Boeing 767 for the route instead of the 168-seat Boeing 757 it had been using since the flight started.

It’s possible Delta also chose to upgrade the route to a larger plane because it needed the 757 for another route in another market, Durrant said.

From Paris, travelers have the option to connect to 70 other destinations via Air France, Durrant said.

“That’s really what drives the viability of a route like this,” Durrant said.

Neither Cleveland nor Columbus — cities with airports most similar in size to Pittsburgh International in terms of passengers, according to federal data — offers service to Paris.

Cincinnati’s airport, which had 1.8 million passengers in 2016 compared with Pittsburgh’s 2.2 million, offers a flight to Paris.

Nonstop, round-trip tickets for the seven-hour flight range from $980 to $4,715, according to Delta’s website.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.

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