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BEEFED-UP AIRPORT SECURITY COMES AT A PRICE, AND NFTA FEELS PINCH

Repercussions from last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are starting to be felt in the coffers at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

While airlines servicing the airport have reinstated the bulk of their flights in the wake of last week's nationwide shutdown, NFTA executives are now faced with a combination of lost revenue and new expenses connected with operating the airport under new security procedures ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Parking revenues are down because cars are being banned from the high-priced short-term spots in the parking garage and shifted to long-term lots farther away from the terminal. Concessions revenue also is being hurt because visitors to the airport who do not have tickets no longer are allowed on the concourse.

In addition, overall operational costs are up because the airport has to open earlier to accommodate all the new security measures.

"The new regulations are having a significant impact on us," Chairman Luiz R. Kahl told the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's board Monday during its monthly session.

"I'm all in favor of the security changes, and I'm not whining or complaining about what has to done, but I want you to know this is going to hurt us financially."

Kahl did not discuss specific dollars and cents, but listed numerous examples.

On the revenue side, the changes in procedures are having an immediate negative impact on airport parking profits. Under the new rules, no parking is permitted less than 300 feet from the terminal building, a change that has forced the closure of the airport's 900-space short-term parking garage, located directly in front of the terminal building.

In the current budget year, that lot is expected to generate $4 million in revenues, with the covered parking structure bringing $1.3 million to NFTA coffers in the last three months. While many of those who had used the short-term lot will make use of long-term spaces in the future, the less expensive spaces will not generate nearly as much revenue.

The NFTA is also in discussions with the FAA regional office in Pittsburgh about using the 140 garage slots at the back of the structure, which fall outside the 300-foot safety zone.

Another parking revenue concern is the overall drop in parkers compared to just a week ago. The vehicle count on Monday was 1,100, compared with 2,800 vehicles that were in the airport lots Sept. 10, the day before the terrorist attacks.

Another problem area is the airport's concessions area, which is now off-limits to most airport visitors. Under the new FAA rules, only ticketed passengers are allowed to pass through the building's security checkpoint to reach the various food stands and shops.

As a result, those seeing off friends and family are cut off from the vendor corridor, the retailers are losing a huge part of their customer base, and the NFTA is missing out on the revenue it shares with concessionaires.

William R. Vanacek, the NFTA's director of aviation, said that planning aimed at repositioning the security checkpoint is under way, but that it could be weeks, or months, before that can be done.

"We're looking at a design that would push the security area far enough up the corridor to allow free access to the concessions area," Vanacek said. "But it could be four to six weeks, possibly longer, before that can happen."

Standing in the the way of quick relocation of the security screening area is FAA approval, as well as procurement of the large acrylic panels that will be needed to rebuild the security barrier.

The NFTA is also facing a number of increased expenses related to the tighter security rules. With passengers needing more time to clear through security to board their flights, the airport is now opening at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5:30 to allow enough time to service travelers on the first morning flights out.

The change is affecting a range of employees, from NFTA police officers to shuttle bus drivers to maintenance staffers.

There also is an increased strain on the budget for NFTA security officers. The beefed-up staffing levels are said to be forcing more reliance on overtime pay, but NFTA officials said they have not yet added up the additional costs.

"We want to do the right thing, but we need to be smart about how we do it," Kahl said, noting that the authority may be forced to tap its contingency budget if the higher costs and lower revenues become long-term issues.

In action Monday, the NFTA board voted unanimously to provide the U.S. Olympic Organizing Committee 15 surplus Metro buses for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Olympic committee will incur the costs of transporting the buses to Utah, and will auction the vehicles off after the event, giving the NFTA the proceeds of the sale.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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