Oh, goody! I've been waiting for this issue to come up again.
A Chicago-based "vacation" airline is eyeing the Niagara Falls International Airport as a 2007 destination.
Festival Airlines, a start-up carrier slated to take off later this year, is talking with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority about adding Niagara Falls to its flight roster.
"We're working hard to land regularly scheduled charter service to the Niagara Falls airport, and this is another strong lead," said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler.
"As we get closer and closer to building a new terminal, it's important that we have actual traffic to back up our passenger projections."
Well, that should be enough for the editorial staff at Artvoice to crank out a 10 page, rambling screed, devoid of any economic analysis, article in favor of spending whatever it takes to develop Niagara Falls Airport. But why does this "vacation" airline need to land in Niagara Falls?
Festival Airlines representatives could not be reached to comment on their interest in Niagara Falls, but the airline is working with a consultant with personal knowledge of the Western New York and Southern Ontario tourism markets. Larry Lewin, a veteran Hyatt Gaming executive, had served as president of Niagara Casinos, the parent firm of Niagara Fallsview Casino and Casino Niagara, from July 2004 through August 2005.
Oh, in other words, we don't know. Looks, though, as if they have some local "contacts." Could it be that the ethereal "vacation" airline is going to fly thousands of tourists into WNY on 747's -- planes that we know can't land at the hopelessly-outdated Buffalo-Niagara International Airport that lies just, oh, I don't know, 20 minutes down the road?
Festival plans to utilize a Florida-based fleet of 200-passenger Boeing 757s.
Oh. Hmm. I distinctly remember Eastern Airlines providing daily service into Buffalo on Boeing 757s in the mid-80s. As I recall, there were no problems either. They didn't have to limit their ticket sales to accommodate the "short" runways and, as far as I know, the only reason 757 service to Buffalo ended was because there just weren't enough damned people who wanted to come here to justify using them.
Be assured, though, the NFTA is on the job scoping out rationalizations to spend $23 million of your money to build another chunk of its empire.
Meckler said Festival is one of several "strong leads" the NFTA is pursuing to bring the nearly idle Niagara Falls airport back to life.
"We have a number of good prospects for both passenger and cargo flights," Meckler said. "We're feeling very good about the chances of having a lot more activity in Niagara Falls in 2007."
The NFTA also is in talking with Myrtle Beach Direct, a charter service that specializes in golf vacations in Myrtle Beach, S.C., about offering flights here next year.
Two cargo handlers, Virginia-based Gemini Air Cargo and Yangtze River Express, headquartered in Shanghai, also are considering hubs at the Niagara Falls airfield.
Other active leads include Eurofly, an Italian airline that flies charters to Milan, and Martin Air, a Dutch cargo carrier.
The NFTA wants to construct a new $23 million terminal at the Niagara County airport as early as next year. The authority needs about $4 million more to make the project a reality.
Whoa! Myrtle Beach Direct, that'll rock the local aviation market. As for the cargo airlines, bring 'em on. I'd be all for spending $23 million to upgrade the Falls to accommodate air-freight. That's an actual wealth-producing, job-creating economic activity. But please, let's get a signed contract first.
Government does not exist to gamble with its constituents' taxes. Leave that up to the private markets. When Yangtze River Express promises to create a Niagara Falls hub if only we'll spend a few mill, then I say let's do it. If we have to whore ourselves out, then, at least, let's get the customer in the room before we negotiate on the price.
It's fine to spend some money on make-up, but plastic surgery before the deal's closed is something we can't afford in these parts.