August 16, 2004

Airline Business Took Off From McKeesport

From the "Methinks They Doth Protest Too Much" Department at the Tube City Almanac Regional Affairs Desk comes this Associated Press story (via the Observer-Reporter):

Although no airline will fly nonstop to Europe from Pittsburgh as of Nov. 7, the airport still will be considered an international one, officials said.
Pittsburgh International Airport still will offer nonstop flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada, which qualify as international destinations. Plus, the "international" distinction means the airport has customs and immigration services, Allegheny County Airport Authority officials said.

Wait a minute ... they mean Canada is another country? Hmm. Well, OK, if they say so. At least it explains those funny pictures on the money.

Besides, having something called an "international" airport isn't such a big distinction; for Pete's sake, Harrisburg has an international airport.

Anyway, I can't get past calling it "Greater Pitt," so I'm glad they didn't change the name again.

Speaking of aviation history, this week marks an important milestone for the Mon-Yough area.

It was 75 years ago this week that the first scheduled airline passenger service to Washington, D.C., from the west began, and the men behind it were from Our Fair City.

In August 1929, Clifford Ball Airlines began service from Cleveland to Washington via Bettis Field in Mifflin Township, just over the border from Dravosburg --- today the site of Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin --- using six-passenger, single-engine Fairchild 71s.

Ball, a McKeesport car dealer, started airline operations in 1926 by carrying mail between Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown with three single-engine biplanes: Miss Pittsburgh, Miss Youngstown and Mss McKeesport. (Miss Pittsburgh, now restored, hangs in the landside terminal of Pittsburgh International Airport.)

Carrying mail by airplane wasn't as logical as it sounds today. In fact, there was a great deal of resistance at first. Airplanes were rickety affairs and crashes were a frequent occurrence. (In fact, the very week that Clifford Ball Airlines began scheduled passenger service to Washington, D.C., a airplane --- not one of Ball's --- crashed on Lebanon Church Road, according to the McKeesport Heritage Center's newsletter.)

But after early experiments (many of them performed in North Huntingdon Township) proved airmail could be successful, the Post Office Department relented. The first air mail pilots were members of the U.S. Army Air Corps; the post office later took over the air mail service.

Still, the postmaster general didn't want to authorize private carriers to deliver the mail; he insisted that government pilots be used. (Come to think of it, it may have been the first example of resistance by the government to privatizing services!)

That irritated U.S. Representative Clyde Kelly, a Republican from Our Fair City, who was known as the "voice of the railway postal clerk." Kelly, who pointed out that the railroads were already carrying mail under private contract without apparent problems, introduced the Kelly Air Mail Act of 1925.

It passed through Congress and was signed by President Coolidge; soon after, the first private air mail contracts were released. The very first contract, not surprisingly, perhaps, was awarded to Kelly's fellow McKeesporter, Cliff Ball. Ball started carrying passengers between McKeesport and Cleveland from Bettis Field in 1927, according to the Mifflin Township Historical Society; the fare was $15 one-way or $25 round trip, and the flight took about 80 minutes.

In 1930, Ball sold his airline to a company called Pittsburgh Aviation Industries, which changed the name to Pennsylvania Airlines. Pennsylvania Airlines merged in 1936 with Central Airlines to become Pennsylvania-Central (no relation to the failed railroad of the same name).

Based at Allegheny County Airport for many years, Pennsylvania-Central Airlines (or "PCA") called itself "the Capital Airline" because of its service to Washington, D.C, and several eastern state capitals.

The present-day Allegheny County police station at the intersection of Lebanon Church Road and Camp Hollow Road, near the entrance to Allegheny County Airport, was once the headquarters of PCA. The building was quickly outgrown, and PCA moved its headquarters to Washington National Airport in 1941. By 1948, PCA had changed its name to Capital Airlines and was among the larger regional airlines in the company.

Over-expansion in the 1950s, including the purchase of a large fleet of British-made turbo-prop Vickers Viscounts, pushed the airline into debt. In 1961, it merged into United Airlines.

Bettis Field was relegated to secondary status once commercial air traffic moved to Allegheny County Airport in 1931 and '32. It passed into ownership by aircraft builder Curtiss-Wright Corp., which sold the airport to Westinghouse Electric Corp. in 1949 for use as Bettis Labs.

United Airlines claims to trace its history to a West Coast air mail route flown by Walter Varney, but the evidence is pretty clear that United's roots are in Our Fair City. Without Cliff Ball (and Clyde Kelly), United Airlines' "friendly skies" would have remained a lot smaller.


From the Politics Desk, Sunday's Washington Post offered this insight into our vice president, who makes Don Rickles look like Mr. Warmth by comparison:

Cheney says he likes to campaign, to meet people. But his manner on the stump often betrays all the joy of someone cleaning an oven. After speaking to a rally at a high school in Battle Creek, the vice president grimaced forth and worked a ropeline, the back of his bald head now covered in red, white and blue confetti. ... Cheney approaches handshakes as if trying to pick mosquitoes out of the air with one hand. He makes quick and minimal contact. ...
When a woman in Battle Creek handed Cheney her baby, he carried the kid for a few seconds and then handed him back, no kiss. In the next three minutes, he would quick-pinch about 100 more hands.
As he walked out a back door, the vice president vigorously rubbed his hands with sanitizing lotion provided by an aide.

Do you have the feeling that Lynne Cheney was the one who changed the dirty diapers in that house?

It could have been worse; he could have demanded that the babies be coated with the sanitizer. Or at least spritzed with Lysol.


In local political news, state Rep. Jim Casorio of North Huntingdon has a message for his challenger, Jeannette attorney Scott Avolio: Drop dead.

Well, not in those words, but as Craig Smith writes in the Tribune-Review, the effect is much the same:

Avolio wants a public debate in the race for the 56th District House seat Casorio has held for eight years. He said he probably has a better chance of winning the state lottery. Democrat Casorio considers the debate a non-issue because he "hasn't said no."
A war of words heated up between the candidates last week, when Avolio said his deadline for a response from Casorio's camp had passed. "Your high-pressure tactics may be effective for a trial lawyer, but they do not serve any purpose in this campaign," Casorio said in a terse, one-page response to Avolio's demand.

Those mean, nasty trial lawyers! I wonder if Casorio is taking the same blunt approach toward that nasty trial lawyer who's running for vice president ... or the guy running for president on that same ticket, who's a former prosecuting attorney (speaking of high-pressure tactics!).

Quick guess? No, probably not.


Finally, Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person involved in a fatal shooting Aug. 7 on Ohio and Brownlee streets in the city. Details via the Post-Gazette.

Posted by jt3y at August 16, 2004 12:00 AM
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