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Buffalo flyers will gain travel options when struggling US Airways overhauls its flight schedule early next year.

The transformation plan, which counts on expanded service to keep the airline in business, will add flights to six of the nine cities US Airways serves with non-stop service out of Buffalo. Starting in February, the troubled airline will add 38 flights a week to its current schedule, led by eight additional departures to Boston.

"With our February schedule, we will lay the groundwork for a complete overhaul," Ben Baldanza, US Airways' marketing chief, said in a statement about the changes.

He said the systemwide schedule expansion -- which will add 230 flights -- will be equivalent to adding 27 jumbo jets and 15 regional jets.

C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said the beefed-up schedule comes as a bit of a surprise.

"Based on what US Airways is facing, we might have expected a contraction rather than an expansion, but obviously this is good news for the Buffalo market," Hartmayer said. "Not only are we adding capacity but additional flights, and that means more options for local travelers."

Plans call for adding six flights each week to New York's LaGuardia International Airport and Albany, four to Hartford, Conn., two to Charlotte, N.C., and one to Pittsburgh.

Changes in the aircraft lineup also will give local travelers more flight possibilities. Use of higher-capacity airliners, for example, will result in an extra 192 seats per week to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the nation's capital, while flights to Orlando, Fla., will be able to carry six additional passengers.

With the added flights and larger planes, US Airways expects capacity will increase by 5 percent to 37,092 seats in February from 35,270 this month.

The airline will trim two flights a week to Philadelphia, eliminating 480 seats a month.

While its local dominance has slipped in recent years with the arrival of such low-cost airlines as JetBlue, Southwest and Independence Air, US Airways remains the market's leading air carrier. As of September, US Airways carried 21 percent of all passengers out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Southwest was No. 2, carrying 16 percent of travelers.

In number of flights, US Airways also led with 30 percent of all departures. United was second.

The Buffalo airport's passenger levels continue to exceed national growth rates, putting the airport on track to reach a new annual enplanement record.

In another step toward US Airways' reorganization, its pilots' union ratified a new labor contract Thursday that will cut their base pay by 18 percent and save the airline $300 million a year.

The airline has expressed hope that a ratified deal with the pilots will give it momentum as it seeks cuts from its three other major unions, representing machinists, flight attendants and passenger service workers. It says it needs about $950 million in annual cost cuts from all its unions to have any chance at survival.

On Thursday, the NFTA's Aviation Committee received an update on design of the new terminal building at the Niagara Falls International Airport. Stantec, the architecture and design firm that is developing a blueprint for the $23 million structure, presented an array of potential construction materials and color palettes for the panel's review.

Stantec principal Stanis Smith told the committee those elements will ultimately form a "unique personality" for the building, which is expected to take its design cues from the natural beauty and force of Niagara Falls.

"The hues and materials can make a big difference in the passenger experience," Smith said, saying the goal is to select elements which made the new airport memorable and distinct.

The architect also presented preliminary ideas for the water feature that will be the hallmark of the proposed, two-level structure. While the flowing centerpiece will draw its inspiration from Niagara Falls, it is not meant to mimic the cataract, according to Smith.

"There is no way we could successfully imitate such a spectacular feature, but we can certainly use it as our inspiration," he said.

The committee members expressed a preference for a selection of "cool" colors and materials that reflect the blue, gray and crystaline tones of natural wonder, but also suggested incorporation of warm wood and stone accents to give the building a more comfortable feel.

The committee gave its formal endorsement to a plan by state Sen. George Maziarz, D-North Tonawanda, to tap into the local share of Casino Niagara revenues as the main funding source of the new terminal. The funding scheme requires State Legislature approval.


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