The new terminal building at Niagara Falls International Airport is taking off.
Having spent more than $40 million to upgrade the airport and build a new terminal along Niagara Falls Boulevard at the Wheatfield town line, officials of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority were delighted Sunday to see passengers lined up there to board two separate commercial flights -- on two separate airlines.
"This validates the assumption that if you build it, the customers will come," NFTA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said.
Sunday's flights were a double boost for the Niagara Falls area. Not only were two commercial jet flights taking off within a few hours of one another, but one of them carried 15 representatives of the tourism and travel industry in northern Florida who are expected to promote new flights to and from Niagara Falls.
One of the VIPs on that flight was Greg Donovan, director of Northwest Florida Regional Airport, serving the twin communities of Destin and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Donovan flew in Friday with about 80 other passengers aboard the inaugural arrival of Vision Airlines' new service between the Falls and northern Florida. Part of his mission in Western New York was to meet Robert Stone, manager of the local airport, but there was much more to the visit than that.
"We were throwing snowballs, and you don't do that in Florida," he said enthusiastically as he waited in the Vision Airlines check-in line. "And we went to see the world-class art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the vineyards at the wineries along Lake Ontario.
"We learned about the Underground Railroad, the outstanding skiing facilities in Western New York and the lovely Village of Lewiston. Where else can you get all that with an airplane ticket that costs only $79 each way?" he said.
Donovan added that two-way traffic will be the real key to success for the new air service, which flies from the Falls to Destin and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., then on to Miami.
One of the passengers headed back south Sunday was Peter H. Bos, a former Western New York resident who operates the 700-room Emerald Grande Hotel in Destin. Bos is a graduate of Iroquois Central High School and of the Hotel Management School at Cornell University.
On previous visits here, he said, "I saw a constant deterioration in industry, business and in general. But that's gone now. There is a general excitement here. There is a super positive attitude. There are grasslands where there used to be wasted property."
As the flight left just after 1 p.m., other passengers already were lining up for the 3 p.m. departure of Direct Air's regularly scheduled flight to Melbourne and Punta Gorda, Fla.
The Niagara Falls Airport, which for years had seen no regularly scheduled commercial service at all, now also serves a third carrier -- Sprint Airlines, with planned service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.