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Airport sees passenger numbers fall Outbound fliers drop for 4th straight month

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport was a lot less crowded in January as the passenger count dipped by nearly 10 percent.

The airport's outbound flier count dropped by more 19,000, or 9.9 percent to 172,009 last month, compared to 191,040 in January 2008. American Airlines and US Airways saw the biggest drop-off in passengers, down 27 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Southwest, the airport's No. 1 airline, had a 9.1 percent decline, while No. 2 JetBlue's passenger count fell 14.69 percent.

This marks the fourth month in a row that the airport has reported year-over-year drops in fliers.

"It's a bigger decrease than we expected and it's causing us to reevaluate our passenger forecasts for 2009," said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence Meckler. "We still believe we're well-positioned for a decent year, even with the bad economy, but we're going to be more conservative in that optimism."

The NFTA had previously forecast a 3.5 percent increase in passenger counts for this year, despite having set a fifth consecutive flier record in 2008 when the total hit 5.5 million, a 3.5 percent jump from 2007.

The revised forecast, which will have revenue implications for the airport's parking and concessions services, will be made public next month ahead of the April 1 start of the NFTA's 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Meckler said strong demand from Southern Ontario travelers and the presence of low-cost airlines, AirTran, Southwest and JetBlue should allow the Buffalo airport to fly above the worst of the economic turbulence.

The airport had been comparatively recession-proof during the past year, setting new passenger records while nationally, air travel was off 1.6 percent in 2008.

The bad news regarding passenger counts comes as the Buffalo airport received high marks for affordability. The federal Department of Transportation has ranked Buffalo airfares as the 11th lowest among the nation's Top 100 airports on its just-released list for the third quarter of 2008.

The average round trip fare out of Buffalo was $286.14 for the three-month period ended Sept. 30., far below the national average fare of $336.73. The Buffalo fares were routinely ranked among the most expensive in the country in the mid-1990s, peaking at an unenviable in 1996, when came in No. 2 at the high end of the chart.

Since the arrival of low-cost airlines AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest, fares have dropped and Buffalo has landed among the 20 least-costly take-offs.

In the latest DOT rankings, Love Field in Dallas, Southwest's home base, had the cheapest tickets in the country with an average price of $238.02. Meanwhile, Cincinnati's average fares of $596.96 made it the nation's most expensive flying market.

The average fare in Rochester was $335.46, while in Syracuse it was $393.52.

In other airport developments, the NFTA Thursday said the debut of the terminal building at Niagara Falls International Airport will be delayed by a least a month. Unusually cold, snowy and windy conditions over the past two months have slowed construction of the $30 million terminal.

The building was scheduled to handle its first passengers on July 3. While the bulk of the construction is expected to be completed by Aug. 5, firms working on the project have had their contracts extended through August 31.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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