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Our Conversation with Christina Cassotis, CEO Allegheny County Airport Authority

Monday, October 08, 2018 2:34 PM | Anonymous

SWEP Three Rivers celebrated its one-year anniversary with the fourth in our series entitled “A Conversation With…” The SWEP Board developed this signature event to help brand our new organization. Collectively, the Board determined that our first year would feature women leaders in our region who are changing perceptions, building bridges, and transforming the region. The conversations proved to be thought-provoking and wildly successful to raise awareness about SWEP Three Rivers.

Our first conversation in September 2017 was a great success and we set the bar high with Arletta Scott Williams, Executive Director of ALCOSAN. Arletta is the first woman and the first African American to serve in this position - leading what is arguably the most important environmental organization protecting the health of our rivers. SWEP Three Rivers would like to thank Arletta for sharing her wisdom with us at our inaugural event and congratulate her on 20 years as Executive Director of ALCOSAN.

Our second conversation featured Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, District Executive, PennDOT District 11. In this role, she is the first woman to oversee what could be one of the most challenging transportation networks in Pennsylvania. Cheryl brought to life the immense responsibility that rests upon PennDOT and the importance of the transportation network to our region’s quality of life.

For our third Conversation we took it to the Park! Allegheny County’s North Park that is to learn about the Allegheny County Parks Foundation and its dynamic Executive Director, Caren Glotfelty. Her words of wisdom with the capacity crowd of women and men included getting involved with professional groups and taking on new challenges. Caren, a well-known environmental advocate spoke passionately about the serious environmental issues facing our region and gave us great advice as to how we can make a difference.

SWEP Three Rivers had a great first year of interesting and inspiring conversations and our fourth speaker, Christina Cassotis, helped us close out our first year on a high note. Christina is literally transforming the aviation industry in our region. As the first woman CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority (ACAA), she is changing the face of “Pittsburgh’s Airport” through a leadership model that demands accountability. Christina came to ACAA with the mandate to affect change. She did that by challenging people to think differently about the airport and the market forces that influence the aviation industry. Her message that the old way of operating just doesn’t work resonated with her team and the region. Based upon the numerous awards given to the Pittsburgh International Airport, Christina and her staff, plus the continued growth in passengers, after three and a half years in Pittsburgh, it is safe to say that her approach works.

With the Terminal Modernization Program (“PITransformed”), Christina is leading an effort to modernize Pittsburgh International Airport and build a community space that will welcome travelers in a much more sustainable and enjoyable way. This exciting project will recreate “Pittsburgh Airport” to meet the demands of today’s travelers and maximize its market potential. Inefficiencies will be eliminated to improve passenger experience and operations, but the vision is to create a community atmosphere within the airport.

One such effort is the plan to build a Sensory Room at Pittsburgh International Airport. As Christina said, the airport must work for everyone, and this effort will make the airport more accessible to those who may be overstimulated or overwhelmed by travel or the airport experience. The concept of a sensory room came from one of the airport’s own through the CEO Suggestion Box that Christina instituted. The idea was submitted from one of the heavy equipment operators who has a son with autism. He wrote a detailed letter about sensory issues, which affects children and adults, and included a picture of the room at Dublin Airport explaining that there is currently no airport in the United States that has such a facility. Taking concept to reality, the Airport Authority Board voted at their September meeting to start construction. Christina praised this effort, especially the fact that he identified a best practice and conducted the research to benchmark the concept. She noted that this demonstrates airport personnel are excited about their airport community and are eager “to open up the world for people with sensory processing disorders.”

In addition to the Terminal Modernization Program and internal airport improvements, Christina is also advancing the ACAA’s relationship with local environmental groups, including the Montour Run Watershed Association. While she admitted this work was not her area of expertise, she emphasized the importance of sustainability in how the airport modernizes its infrastructure, energy needs, and relationship with surrounding communities. In some regards, Pittsburgh still must combat stereotypes of abandoned smokestacks, despite being a hub for technology, health care, and clean energy. She recognized early on that Pittsburghers believed the airport was important and had a vested interest in having it work well—which means it must modernize along with the city and region. Of all her accomplishments since arriving in Pittsburgh, Christina is most proud of the development of the team as they work together to advance the vision of transformation for Pittsburgh international and the region.

SWEP-Three Rivers would like to thank our Conversationalists and our sponsors. We could not offer such a wonderful program without the following organizational support: Platinum Sponsor, ALCOSAN, and Gold Sponsors: JMT; and Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc.; Silver Sponsor: SGS; Bronze Sponsors: Babst Calland; Eholdings; Moody and Associates; Hull, Inc.; Test America; and Collective Efforts.

SWEP – Three Rivers is looking forward to 2019 and continuing the conversation with the goal to diversify our speakers and present new opportunities to network and build relationships. Please visit our website to learn about upcoming events!

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