The Buffalo Niagara International Airport is poised to grow, and what better direction than toward Western Europe?
The notion of regularly scheduled nonstop transatlantic flights out of Buffalo is a logical extension of service at the airport, which serves millions of passengers from Western New York and Southern Ontario.
The Buffalo airport has the infrastructure and sophisticated operation necessary for expanded service, without the congestion that is a hallmark of larger facilities. International carriers looking for a bigger slice of the American market should consider making a home here.
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials are bullish on the idea of scheduled international flights out of the local airport. Timing is everything.
As News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy recently wrote, the larger eastern gateway airports are becoming more congested and European carriers are starting to turn to midsize U.S. airports – Buffalo’s category.
Midsize airports already benefiting from the move include Newburgh’s Stewart International, home to Norwegian Airlines flights to Edinburgh, Scotland, and elsewhere in Europe. Bradley International, serving Hartford, Conn., just attracted the Irish airline Aer Lingus. Bradley is the nation’s 54th busiest airport and is often considered a peer to Buffalo, which ranks 58th nationally with about 4.6 million passengers each year.
The NFTA is looking to capitalize on that wave of expansion of service to Europe. William R. Vanecek, the NFTA’s director of aviation, noted, “I’d like to say it’s only a matter of time.”
Hope lies in the numerous points of contact between Buffalo airport staff and European-based airlines. There is a lot to recommend here; high passenger count, an efficient, easy-to-use facility and comparatively uncluttered airspace compared to European gateways such as New York City.
That uncluttered airspace is attractive to international carriers that face restrictions on the number of flights allowed at busy East Coast airports. While Buffalo’s 8,827-foot runway can handle jumbo jets, this market would likely see smaller aircraft, according to Vanecek.
Filling the aircraft likely would not be an issue. There is already a healthy influx of Canadian passengers unwilling to brave the congestion at Pearson International in Toronto or seeking lower fares. Cars with Canadian license plates fill the Buffalo airport parking lot. Canadians have been known to cross the border under the iffiest weather conditions to catch flights.
One way Buffalo is not competitive is in incentives. Other midsize airports have put together incentive packages worth millions of dollars to airlines. The NFTA is trying to compete by offering to waive landing fees for two years, along with other cost breaks and a “significant” marketing package.
Landing an international carrier will not happen right away. Southwest and JetBlue took their time adding Buffalo to their schedules. Frontier Airlines recently started serving Buffalo with nonstop flights to Denver and four Florida cities after 18 years of courtship.
But Buffalo’s airport has enough advantages that travelers headed to Europe may some day be able to skip that tiresome change of planes on the East Coast.