Sunday, March 20, 2005

Fly the Friendly (Niagara) Skies

The major airport in Western New York is the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which used to be a really grungy place until the old airport, with its East and West terminals neither of which had the same architecture as the other, was basically demolished in favor of the really nice airport that services the region today. I actually tend to really enjoy airports; they're a great place to people-watch, and if you're attentive you'll witness moments of sadness as people leave their loved ones to go traveling as well as moments of happiness as loved ones return. The saddest airport moment I ever saw was while I was waiting for a flight, and at the next gate over, it came time for some poor little nine-year-old girl to board her flight to go back to her mother, having just spent a couple of weeks with her divorced father. It was a really sad scene to behold.

But anyway: the very name "Buffalo Niagara International Airport" implies that the airport is a regional one, serving the entirety of our region, and that's about right: just about all commercial air travel in these parts takes off from BNIA, and well it should. It is fairly centrally located, and unlike many regional airports, it's neither hard to get to nor an absurd distance from, well, everything.

But there's another airport in Niagara Falls, NY, that has basically been sitting idle for years. Now, it's not totally idle -- there is a small air cargo industry that operates there, charter flights use to Niagara Falls land there, and the NFIA's runway is shared by an adjoining United States Airforce Base. And it's the runway that's the most interesting thing about NFIA: it's much longer than the runway at BNIA, since it has to be able to service those gigantic aircraft that take off and land from the USAF base. Which means that the NFIA is something of an untapped resource, and there have been sporadic efforts in recent years to tap it.

First there was a bizarre attempt to lease the entire facility to some Spanish company for a very low amount of money, with the exact benefits of doing so a bit unclear -- no one knew if this company really planned to upgrade NFIA and start using it as a passenger airport or what. That deal was scuttled. Other attempts to bring in low-cost carriers to NFIA have failed, since there simply isn't enough demand for new passenger air travel into the region. BNIA serves the region's passenger air needs just fine, although charter overflow is well-directed there. And there have been rumblings about turning NFIA into the hub of a greatly-increased air cargo industry. I personally find that idea fairly compelling, although I'm really not at all convinced that it's feasible. ArtVoice, Buffalo's independent weekly newspaper, used to tout this idea with regularity, although they seem to have backed off it more recently.

The latest item of interest for NFIA is interesting indeed: it seems that Airbus needs to build a manufacturing facility somewhere in the United States, and NFIA has been submitted as a possibility. The requirements are almost perfectly suited to NFIA:

Among the specifications the prospective sites must meet are: access to an extra-long airport runway, railroad lines, and the availability of a deep water port for transfer of aircraft fuselage and wings to the production location.

I like that last part especially, since I assume that Buffalo would be the deep water port (although I suppose it could be Rochester as well). This would be a hefty shot in the arm for the local manufacturing base, as well as put the Buffalo Niagara region on the "international commerce" map.

Landing this deal is, of course, far from easy: twenty-three states are expected to submit three sites each for consideration. But I hope that our civic leaders around here, such as they are, aren't in the least bit daunted by that. We've landed Geico and we've landed Bass Pro. Now let's get the big fish on the hook and reel it in.

(Alan and Craig also like this idea.)

No comments: