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AIR TRANSAT TO EXPAND CHARTER FLIGHTS

A Canadian charter airline that started weekly service from Buffalo to the Dominican Republic in February plans to add two more flights to tropical destinations this winter and won't rule out adding European service if the market continues to grow.

Paula Miller, sales manager for Air Transat, on Monday said her company was so pleased with the response to its flights to the Dominican resort of Punta Cana that it will add weekly service to Puerta Plata, another Dominican resort, and Cancun, a popular Mexican destination.

"It was very successful, and we sold out many departures," Miller said of the Punta Cana flight. "The program was so successful we're coming back with three flights."

Air Transat's packages last season started at $854 per person for a seven-day, all-inclusive stay at a four-star resort in Punta Cana.

Air Transat, Canada's largest charter airline, also plans to expand the season during which it will fly into and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Flights will begin in December, as opposed to February when it debuted its Punta Cana flight, and continue until late April.

The Cancun service will run on Thursdays, beginning Dec. 20; the Puerta Plata flight will run on Fridays, beginning Dec. 21; and the Punta Cana flight will again run on Mondays, beginning Dec. 24.

The Toronto-based airline predominantly serves tropical destinations during the cold-weather months and shifts its focus to Europe during the summer. When asked if Buffalo might be considered for trans-Atlantic service, Miller replied "anything is possible."

Air Transat is expanding and plans to add seven new Airbuses to its 23-plane fleet this year. The company charges the same prices out of Buffalo for its package trips as it does from Toronto.

"People are prepared to drive to Toronto, so we have to be competitive," Miller said.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority invested $10.9 million in 1998 to expand the new airport to accommodate international flights. At that time, the authority was responding to a request by Santo Tours, a local charter company that began offering weekly flights to Cancun.

Lawrence M. Meckler, NFTA executive director, said Santo continues to offer weekly flights to Cancun, 18 during the past winter season. He said the decision by Air Transat to compete on the Cancun route will benefit local travelers.

"We've seemed to be doing well in all the markets, low-cost service, regular service and now charter service seems to be picking up," Meckler said. "We're delighted to give people more choices."

The Buffalo airport set a record of 4.2 million passengers last year and is on pace to reach 5 million this year. At the NFTA board meeting Monday, Meckler reported that airport usage was up 18 percent through May, compared with the same period last year.

In response to the continued growth of the airport, the board approved a $6.4 million contract to add a new 2,100-space, long-term parking area off Holtz Road.

The lot will be for long-term parking and will bring the total number of parking spaces at the airport to 7,100 by the end of this year. DiPizio Construction Co. will build the lot.

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