A congressional conference Wednesday approved $2.5 million for Niagara Falls International Airport that officials say will speed its development as a continental charter passenger and cargo destination.
The money -- $2 million for an expanded apron and $500,000 for an access road -- was announced by Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both D-N.Y.
Aware of opposition in Buffalo business circles to expanding the airport as a charter destination, Schumer and Clinton emphasized the money will be used to help build the facility as a cargo hub.
However, Lawrence M. Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which owns the airport, said the money "helps us generate momentum as we look to build a new passenger terminal and greatly expand our cargo capacity."
Greg Stamm, NFTA chairman, said the funds will serve both the airport's cargo and passenger objectives.
Stamm said the authority is about to open bids for a $27 million passenger terminal, with construction expected to start in the spring with completion by July 2009. Financing will come from proceeds from the Seneca Niagara Casino, New York State Power Authority, City of Niagara Falls, and authority bonds.
"With this funding," Schumer said, "Niagara Falls International is poised to make the most of its strategic location as an international and intermodal trade center. I will continue fighting to secure these crucial funds to make the airport a world-class, job-producing, cargo hub."
Stamm said one likely tenant at the airport is Kerry Tours, based at Shannon Airport, Ireland.
"They're hoping to run 20 charters a year to Niagara Falls," he said.
The authority also is negotiating with cargo operators and investors who want to build a warehouse at the airport.
The new aprons will be able to handle two Boeing 757s at one time, or one 747, Meckler said.
The funds are provided in a Senate-House conference report on transportation, housing and related appropriations. The bill must be approved by each house of Congress and signed by President Bush.