Twenty years ago today the new terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport opened.  I was lucky enough to have served an integral role in that opening as Airport Communications Manager for a small non-profit entity that had been granted a contract by Allegheny County to manage communications and opening events. While I assisted in training event volunteers and opening events, my primary role was to attract national and international media attention to the facility.

It truly was the best of times and the worst of times.  The work was in turn both exhilarating and frustrating.  Although I had worked with premier media outlets before, I had never been so fully focused on media like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC News, CNN and USA Today on a daily basis. The bottom line is that we were overwhelmingly successful both in media and special events.  That was the exhilarating part.

But two of us hired by this nonprofit to handle the airport project were caught in a political firestorm between the agency and the county.  I had never before been exposed to the political arena and it is the single reason I abhor all politics and politicians. That was the frustrating part.

Now the fun part is the sixth sense I developed about the airport. I learned so much about that facility by walking through when it was a construction zone, conducting hard hat media tours and following the progress right up through and beyond opening day. I can turn a corner and I know that there will be a restroom there; I instinctively know what concourse has restaurants; and back when it mattered where the pay phones are located. Our group even held a rousing game of Airport Trivia at a local pub as a post-mortem to the opening events.

But like every story filled with drama and frustration, laughter and fun, there are also tears.  Every time I go to the airport, I am sad at what it has become – a shell of its former self.  Two of the concourses with 50 gates each have had walls erected in the “crook of the arm” to close off half the gates.  Sad.  Looking up at the board of flights – no longer are there 600 plus flights on a daily basis.  Today it is fewer than 200 – way fewer. Whose fault is it?  Well, in large part the blame falls with the aftermath of 9/11 and what happened in the airline industry.

But there is plenty of other blame to go around.  County politicians – who were so quick to inject themselves into every detail of our work in 1991 and 1992 – dropped the ball when it came to putting all its eggs in one basket with USAirways.  And in the 20 years since, the replacement politicians have all turned a blind eye to the project hoping it would resolve on its own.  And USAirways.  Never has an entity been given so much – the very airport itself designed as they wished – and then abandoned the region as soon as times got tough.

Yes it’s sad to see what this showpiece has become.  I wish I could snap my fingers and turn back time to 1992 and have the airport functioning at its best again. Astoundingly I read in yesterday’s newspaper former county politicians pointing fingers at their contemporaries about what went wrong.  I assure you that these people can all point the finger right back in the mirror.  The petty politics limited everything about that project and everyone in office before, during and after the airport opening carry responsibility for what it has become.