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An air cargo and charter service has been started at Niagara Falls International Airport that will operate independently of Cintra, the Spanish company awaiting final approval to take over airport operations.

Tech Aviation said Thursday that it will start "Just In Time" Air Freight Service. Company officials said their venture is not intended to compete with Cintra.

Tech Aviation was hired by Niagara Falls Redevelopment to be the fixed-base operator at the airport, meaning that it carries out such crucial airport jobs as fueling corporate aircraft, provide catering on corporate flights, handling rental cars and servicing special charters.

"There is a substantial market out there for cargo transfer," said Tech Aviation President Frank E. Paczewski. "We expect this to start slowly and then gain momentum. By the end of the summer, we'll have a business going."

Cintra welcomes the new company, said spokesman Earl Wells in Buffalo. "If it means increasing business at the airport, we're all for it."

Three local equipment companies are already on board to use the airport to transport cargo, said Barry Boyer Jr., general manager of Tech Aviation.

Tech Aviation also has contracted with a charter outfit, Indianapolis-based American TransAir, to fly in four planeloads of people in May on "gambling junkets" to Niagara Falls, Ont., Boyer said.

"The attitude has been to wait until Cintra comes along, but we're taking the initiative and moving ahead now," said Debbie Doyle, Tech Aviation's customer service manager.

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency will help Tech Aviation market the new company and drum up business, said IDA Executive Director John R. Simon.

The Madrid-based Cintra was recently given the go-ahead by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which owns the airport, to lease the property for 99 years.

That agreement still has to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration after a 60-day public comment period, which began this week.

Cintra executives, who originally had hoped to begin operations at the Niagara Falls airport last July, now say they hope to set up an office at the airport in May.

Tech Aviation currently leases offices at the airport from Niagara Falls Redevelopment, which, in turn, is leasing from the NFTA. If Cintra's lease is approved, Tech Aviation's lease will be rolled over into the contract, company officials said.

Last November's snowstorms that closed the Buffalo airport was the catalyst for forming the new air freight company, Boyer said.

During the storms, the Niagara Falls airport stayed open and, several commercial passenger planes were diverted to field, including JetBlue and Shuttle America planes, Boyer said. Several other cargo flights were also made from the Niagara Falls airport, he said.

"The message then, and now, is that we are here and we have a wide-open airport," Boyer said.

At the Niagara office, Tech Aviation employs eight line people and four management personnel and has several part-time workers who can be called in when needed, Boyer said.

The work force is expected to increase to 20 by the end of the year, he said.

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