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KIWI'S LAST FLIGHT -- LIKE OTHERS BEFORE -- IS CANCELED

Kiwi International Air Lines' last flight from Niagara Falls International Airport was scheduled to take off at 7:25 p.m. Sunday. Like so many of the airline's flights here, it was canceled.

The 20 or so passengers were packed into taxicabs and driven to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, where they flew to Newark, N.J., on Continental Airlines, as so many persons booked on Kiwi had this summer.

Ten local employees were handed their pink slips Sunday.

It marked an inglorious end to a 3 1/2 -month effort to provide a low-fare alternative to expensive major carrier flights to and from the New York City area. For the record, the last flight from Niagara Falls took off last Wednesday, employees said.

County Legislator Robert R. Villani, R-Town of Niagara, said, "That was their problem all along. They were not dependable."

Harry Hostler of Niagara Falls, a customer service worker, was among those who lost their jobs with Kiwi's pullout, announced last Thursday. He said the airline had canceled all its Tuesday and Thursday flights a month ago, and the scheduled departures Friday, Saturday and Sunday were scrubbed.

"Once the word got out that they were leaving, everything got canceled out," Hostler said.

He said most of the outbound passengers this summer were tourists Kiwi had flown up to Niagara Falls from Newark.

"The most ridership actually from this area was maybe 18 people," Hostler said.

There were plenty of complaints from angry passengers who waited out Kiwi delays and cancellations, and some said publicly that Kiwi workers treated them rudely.

Hostler said, "I didn't appreciate the bad publicity. I know for a fact we bent over backwards for customers."

Besides booking them on rival airlines and lining up transportation, some customers were put up in hotels overnight at Kiwi's expense, he said.

Despite the summer of airline discontent, Hostler said, "I strongly believe in Kiwi and I hope to see them come back."

He blamed Niagara and Erie counties' industrial development agencies for failing to grant Kiwi $550,000 in loans the airline said it needed to lease a smaller aircraft for the service.

Kiwi was flying 160-passenger Boeing 727s, and needed a plane of about 100 seats to have a hope of making a profit, airline officials said all along.

Villani said, "It was a chicken-and-the-egg thing. They didn't want to make the commitment without a smaller plane, and for that, they needed the loan, but the IDA didn't want to make the loan without the commitment."

But Villani, whose dual role as a legislator and Niagara County IDA board member has made him a major player in the effort to provide airline service to the otherwise nearly silent Niagara Falls airport, said another candidate is waiting in the wings.

Trans International Express, a small turbo-prop airline, will begin service from Niagara Falls to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport in mid-September, Villani said. Albany and Hartford, Conn., are also expected destinations.

He said Trans International has been in touch with the IDA, but has yet to formally apply for any financial aid. The agency has also been discussing Niagara Falls service with Northern Airlines, a Syracuse-based start-up airline that plans to fly jets among several Northeastern cities once it receives approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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