061023 Airport

Pictured is an artist's rendering of a proposed new terminal at the Niagara Falls International Airport..

The good news on the Niagara Falls International Airport is that charter airlines seem interested and plans for cargo operations are moving forward.

The bad news: The longer it takes for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to secure a steady stream of funds for the new terminal, the higher costs for the terminal will rise.

The state legislation that would allow the funds from the Seneca Niagara Casino to flow — which the authority is counting on to build the terminal — is sitting in the Senate, waiting to be sent to the governor for his signature.

Until the bill is signed, thus securing the funds, the authority can’t bond for the new terminal or solicit bids for construction.

In the meantime, the costs for a new terminal have risen from $23 million to $27.5 million. The costs for the entire project have gone from $30 million to $35 million.

The increases are caused by rising prices for materials, not a change in the design.

“We expected it,” said Lawrence Meckler, executive director of the NFTA. “With a delay in the project, the costs were going to go up.”

A bill that specifies how the local share of slot-machine revenue from the casino from 2007 to 2016 needs to be transferred from the Senate to the governor’s desk before it becomes law. The Senate sends bills to the governor in bundles, but it’s not clear when the slots bill will be transferred, according to Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he’s sure the bill will be sent to the governor before the end of the year, but he doesn’t know when.

The bill includes $1 million per year for the terminal. The terminal has also been allocated $1 million per year from 2003 to 2006. The authority will have to make up the difference between the $14 million from the slots revenue and the terminal’s costs from other sources. State leaders have been lobbied, but no commitments have been made.

In order to host charter flights in greater numbers, the terminal needs to be rebuilt because of current federal security guidelines. However, the financial delay hasn’t stopped NFTA officials from marketing the airport to charter airlines.

Festival Airlines, a start-up based in Chicago, is considering sending two or three flights per week to Niagara Falls, according to William Vanecek, director of aviation for the NFTA.

There are also discussions about service to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The authority is also considering a cooperative advertising program that would allocate money to airlines so they could promote Niagara Falls as a destination.

Niagara County’s leading tourism booster admits he was a skeptic about the potential of the airport, especially with another airport 30 miles away. But after taking marketing trips with NFTA officials to meet with charter airlines, he’s confident that a redeveloped airport could bring many more visitors to the region.

“I was sort of skeptic,” said John Percy, president of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. “Once I started to help market it. ... I think there’s huge possibility and huge opportunity at the airport.”

He said Festival Airline’s response to the Niagara pitch was “so positive and bigger than I thought.”

“We left that meeting with a great sense that they want to move forward,” he said.

On the cargo side, Vanecek said the authority’s consultant, Innova Consulting of Baltimore has had discussions with two international cargo operators.

Federal funds aren’t available for new terminals when the amount of flights at an airport are so low, authority officials have said. As a result, they have to go after other funding sources, such as the slot-machine revenue. Other costs, for things like parking or runway improvements, could, and have, come from the federal government.

The delay doesn’t sit well with Henry Sloma, a commissioner of the NFTA who has pushed for redevelopment of the airport.

“The people of Niagara have waited long enough,” Sloma said. “We have within reach the ability to build that terminal.”

Contact Jill Terreriat 282-2311, Ext. 2250.

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