Airport spreads its wings

Situated on a 10,000-acre site located 20 miles west of the city, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) accommodates almost 10 million travelers each year. PIT services about 210 non-stop flights per day to 59 destinations. With new routes being added each year and growing development surrounding the airfield, the airport is a major economic engine for southwestern Pennsylvania.


Situated on a 10,000-acre site located 20 miles west of the city, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) accommodates almost 10 million travelers each year. PIT services about 210 non-stop flights per day to 59 destinations. With new routes being added each year and growing development surrounding the airfield, the airport is a major economic engine for southwestern Pennsylvania.


In the late 1980s the Allegheny County Airport Authority recognized the need to expand and update its facilities to accommodate the growing number of domestic and international flights at PIT. The airport's original terminal, built in 1952, was considered one of the most modern and spacious in the country when it first came online, second only in size to JFK International Airport in New York. However, despite the addition of an international wing in 1972, along with several new docks and rotundas throughout the 1980s to increase the number of gates, the capacity of the original terminal still proved inadequate.

“We needed a larger terminal with modern jetways not only for the growing number of flights, but also for the larger aircraft passing through the airport,” said Tom Long, director of maintenance and a 38-year PIT employee. “We also knew the original facility contained asbestos, as well as old building control equipment that were not able to be upgraded.”

Construction on the new PIT terminal began in 1990. It was designed to offer 7.7 million sq ft of air-side space, more than 100 gates, and a mall of more than 100 restaurants and specialty shops. Based on the Honeywell's more-than-40-year relationship with the airport, PIT and its architectural consultants tapped Honeywell to supply HVAC and fire alarm systems throughout the new space.

When the terminal opened to the flying public in 1992, Honeywell technology helped control more than 17,000 HVAC points and 9,000 fire alarm points throughout the facility. At the heart of the building automation architecture were 155 Honeywell Excel Plus HVAC controllers, 550 MCL variable air volume zone controllers, and 30 FS90 fire alarm panels—all integrated into a Graphics Central system with redundant backups and four remote terminals.

Honeywell upgraded the front end to its Excel Building Supervisor-Integrated (XBSi) in 1997, which allowed the airport to migrate from Microsoft Windows 3.1 to a Windows 98 platform. In 1998, the company completed a fire alarm expansion, bringing all the remote buildings at PIT onto the fire protection platform. This added another XBSi terminal as well as 20 more FS90 panels. Finally, 80 XL50 controllers were added to control the HVAC for the air bridges in 1999.

To assist in managing this wide array of equipment, two full-time Honeywell technicians work with the airport's maintenance department as part of an ongoing service agreement, maintaining equipment and supervising much of the fieldwork.

“It's an integrated team,” Long said. “Honeywell takes care of the core computer equipment up to the panel, and we work with the Honeywell technicians to maintain the end devices. They also provide training to our system operators as needed. Our maintenance and operations departments have really benefited from the service relationship.”

Systems integration

With heightened security concerns following Sept. 11, 2001, PIT officials wanted the ability to monitor and control all building systems from its Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The vision was that EOC operators would control not only HVAC and lighting systems through a centralized management platform, but also life safety, security, and other building systems to provide the most safe and comfortable environment for travelers and airport personnel.

Honeywell recommended that the airport switch to the company's Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI), an enterprise management system that boosts energy efficiency and reduces operating costs by integrating core building technology and allowing operators to view and control these functions from a single workstation. With EBI, PIT would be able to tie nearly all building systems into a flexible, open architecture while keeping its existing control equipment in place. After extensive planning, Honeywell completed the installation in 2002 with no system downtime.

The EBI system, consisting of two redundant servers and 11 stations, was customized to the airport's specifications, largely mirroring the look and feel of the old XBSi interface. This minimized the workflow learning curve for operators, allowing them to instantly understand the data presented to them and reduce training time.

A demonstration EBI's effectiveness, according to Long, came during a smoke test conducted by PIT and its fire department not long after Honeywell technicians installed the system. Airport officials wanted to verify how smoke would travel throughout a particular area of the terminal in the event of a fire. To test smoke control capabilities—involving the combined use of fire alarm and HVAC systems—the fire department set up artificial smoke machines to simulate a blaze in one of the retail stores located along the concourse. When the test was run and the alarm system detected smoke, the HVAC system immediately kicked in, ventilating the area exactly as planned.

“It was amazing, there was literally a wall of smoke on one side and clear air on the other,” said Long. “The whole integrated system worked extremely well and gave us great confidence that it was finely tuned.”

In addition to HVAC, fire, and security, PIT has integrated other systems onto EBI, including a defibrillator system. If someone in the airport has a heart attack or other medical emergency and a defibrillator unit is taken from its location, an alarm automatically notifies EOC operators of the exact location of the incident, helping emergency responders take action as quickly and effectively as possible.

PIT has linked its fire system into all off-site buildings, including hangars, fuel farms, maintenance garages, parking garages, and rental car buildings. It also is exploring ways to tie in data from its closed circuit TV system and Flight Information Display System (FIDS), the network of screens across the airport detailing flight arrival and departure times.

“What we want is complete control of our building operations from one centralized location,” Long said. “Linking FIDS into EBI is just another step in that evolution. It will allow us to make changes to the screens across the terminal from the EOC, something we couldn't do before.”

Energy conservation

With the reduced number of flights and travelers after Sept. 11, as well as the continual rise in fuel costs, the airport also recognized the need to gain better control of its energy use across its facilities to help offset these pressures. In response, PIT established an energy management team made up of airport management, facilities personnel, and Honeywell consultants that meets on a monthly basis to assess energy conservation opportunities throughout the airport.

For example, the rooftop units that heat and cool the airport have been optimized to minimize electrical consumption, escalators and moving walkways are shut down at night when traffic is relatively low, and occupancy sensors have been placed throughout areas of the terminal to minimize lighting use, particularly at night. With Honeywell's guidance, PIT also is exploring submetering across the terminal to better understand and regulate energy use with tenant organizations, such as retail outlets.

As PIT looks to expand its capabilities beyond the airport and tie in building systems at nearby Allegheny County Airport, both managed by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, it will continue to work with Honeywell to support its technology needs.

At A Glance

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) tapped Honeywell to supply the HVAC and fire alarm systems for its new terminal. When that terminal opened in 1992, it had 17,000 HVAC points, 9,000 fire alarm points, 155 Honeywell Excel Plus HVAC controllers, 550 MCL variable air volume zone controllers, and 30 FS90 fire alarm panels. All of these systems were integrated into a Graphics Central.

Six years later, the fire alarm system was expanded to include all of PIT's remote buildings in the fire protection platform, bringing an additional 20 FS90 panels. The year after, 80 XL50 controllers were added to control the HVAC for the air bridges.

In response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, PIT adopted Honeywell's Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI), an enterprise management system that integrates almost all of PIT's building systems into a flexible open architecture. EBI is helping PIT attain its goal of having complete control of building operations from one centralized location.

PIT and Honeywell continue to work as a team to develop ideas to improve the airport's operations, systems, and energy management strategies.

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