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AIRLINE TO OFFER CHARTERS FROM FALLS

Charter flights full of vacationers will once again lift off from Niagara Falls International Airport, but you're going to need a Canadian passport to board. They don't take Americans on this Cancun express.

A Canadian charter company announced Thursday that it would send jets full of Canadians to Orlando, Cancun and the Dominican Republic every week from the Christmas season through Easter.

Because of the relatively quick boarding times and prices more than $400 less than their nearest competitor, GoSVO expects to do well flying out of Niagara Falls, said company President Irina Lazareva. In addition, Niagara Falls International Airport can offer free parking. That's because it has no scheduled passenger traffic.

But American sun-seekers shouldn't get their hopes up yet. "Business security" clauses in its jet lease will restrict the seats to Canadian citizens only, said Steve Acres of GoSVO, the charter company.

Acres said he expects the company will solve the regulatory hurdle and welcome Americans on its flights by the end of the year.

The company will be using leased Boeing 727s or 737s, and flights will start Dec. 17, Acres said. The company has begun booking seats through its website, gosvo.com.

If its flights are popular, the company will branch out to other destinations, said Acres. He described the company's contract to land at the airport, which runs through April, as "very much a toe in the water."

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Chairman Luiz Kahl said the charter deal would help bring much-needed traffic to the Niagara region. "This is one of those days we have been waiting for for a long time," he said.

The authority is in the final stages of designing a new terminal for the airport, Kahl said, a first-class facility that "we can all be proud of."

Building the new terminal will accelerate the growth of business at Niagara Falls International Airport, Kahl said. The NFTA has learned its lesson in Buffalo, he said: "If you don't build, they will not come."

State Sen. George Maziarz noted that Canadian passengers would represent an economic opportunity for the area, but hopefully just the beginning of airport spinoff effects. "I hope to meet you all here soon for some more announcements -- soon rather than later," said Maziarz.

The North Tonawanda Republican has proposed using $1 million annually from the Seneca Niagara Casino's local share money for the terminal, for the 13 years remaining in the casino compact. It's an idea opposed by Niagara Falls officials, who say the $13 million should come from federal and state airport construction funds, like the Buffalo airport was built.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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