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Falls airport cargo deal offers global vision NFTA's 20-year pact includes new facility

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, hoping that good things come in very big packages, signed an agreement Monday for cargo development at Niagara Falls International Airport.

The NFTA board of commissioners has agreed to a 20-year contract with Niagara Cargo Port LLC to steer international cargo business to the Niagara County airport. Under the lease agreement, Niagara Cargo will not only sign shippers, but will develop a cargo-handling facility behind the old Carborundum plant, along the airport's auxiliary road.

The cargo consortium is required to build a 35,000-square-foot cargo facility within the next two years, with a 35,000-square-foot addition to follow by 2013.

"This is real bricks and mortar. This puts us on the global air cargo map," said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler.

Niagara Cargo is a consortium of three cargo businesses: Vista Cargo International, which operates a 400,000-square-foot air freight-handling depot at Toronto's Pearson International Airport; Atlas International Freight Forwarding, a Canadian company that offers shipping services around the globe; and Speed Transportation, a Buffalo trucking company with more than a half-million square feet of warehouse space.

"These are real players, with the ability to attract substantial cargo business," said William R. Vanecek, the NFTA's aviation director. "This is the start of something great."

Niagara Cargo is expected to focus on goods coming from China and India. The air cargo group expects to have a minimum of one Boeing 747 a week coming into the Niagara Falls airport.

The cargo consortium will pay the NFTA a minimum of $24,500 a year in ground rent, with additional revenues flowing to the transportation agency based on the volume of goods handled.

The NFTA will need to upgrade the runway aprons to accommodate the heavy aircraft coming into the airport on a regular basis. The paving improvement, which will carry a price tag of between $5 million and $6 million, is a capital investment the airport owner had anticipated with the arrival of frequent cargo flights.

Federal and state aviation dollars are expected to be available to aid the proposal.

Meckler said the air cargo deal is viewed as a companion effort to the NFTA's push to get scheduled passenger traffic at the Niagara County airfield. The NFTA is continuing its efforts to secure additional funds for construction of a new $23 million passenger terminal at the nearly idle airport.

"We're on a parallel course with cargo and passenger traffic," he said. "We want both."

In other action Monday, acting NFTA Chairwoman Mary S. Martino said the agency's 2006-07 budget, which will be acted on in March, will not include an increase in Metro Bus and Rail fares. Higher revenues from increased ridership, internal cost-cutting, an increase in state operating subsidies and increased airport parking and concession revenues all are working to offset the need for higher fares.

The last increase came in April 2003, when fares climbed from $1.25 to $1.50. That was the first fare increase since 1996.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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