Niagara Falls to Ireland -- nonstop; Plan would forge direct route to Europe

The luck of the Irish could touch the Niagara Falls International Airport next summer in the form of direct flights to Shannon, Ireland.

Salisbury, Maryland-based Kenny Tours Ltd. confirmed Monday it wants to offer weekly chartered flights between Niagara Falls and Shannon starting in mid-May.

"We are pursuing this very aggressively," said Bob Nay, the tour company's sales and marketing director.

Nay said a final decision will be born out of what he called "11th-hour" negotiations with potential carriers.

"We're sold on Niagara. Now we have to finalize things with a carrier so we can offer the best possible deals. We hope to do that in the next couple of weeks," he said.

The once-a-week flights, which would carry Irish tourists to the United States and Buffalo-area flyers to Ireland, would be the first-ever non-stop flights between the Niagara Falls airport and Europe.

"It would be big milestone for the Niagara Falls airport. It's exactly the kind of activity we hoped we would be able to generate there and we're fairly confident it's going to happen," said Lawrence Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

If the deal in consummated, the flights would utilize the existing terminal at the Niagara Falls airport, which will cause the NFTA to "make do" with the outdated facility for the 2008 season, according to Meckler.

"The new terminal won't open until July 2009, but we have the capacity to handle a limited number of international passengers until then. It

won't be a big problem," he said.

Although groundbreaking for the new $27.5 million terminal won't take place until next spring, the NFTA is already using the future facility as a marketing tool to lure airlines to the Niagara County airport.

Kenny Tours, which has booked tours in Ireland since 1989 using regularly-scheduled airline flights, plans to launch its own charters this summer, using a leased carrier. In addition to Niagara Falls, it is in talks to offer Irish and U.S. vacations via Shannon, out of Rockford, Ill., Lansing, Mich., Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Mo., and Pittsburgh.

Nay said the company is already sold on the amount of business a link between Niagara Falls and Shannon could produce.

"There has always been great interest on the part of Irish travelers to visit the falls, but they are also know about New York State wineries, and the Irish heritage in your area," he said.

Nay also anticipates Irish tourists would head to Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Kenny would offer package tours in both directions, including airfare, accommodations, some meals, and either a rental car or motorcoach. Travelers to Ireland could sign up for planned tours, or "go as you please" trips with the ability to chose destinations and lodging at thousands of bed-and-breakfasts and farmhouses. Air-only service is not currently under consideration. Kenny expects to price the one-week package trips starting at under $1,000.

The NFTA is also in talks with Skybus Airlines, a Columbus, Ohio-based no-frills airline that offers low-cost flights between airports in secondary markets. Skybus would offer daily flights from Niagara Falls to one of its current hubs.

Skybus, which offers a certain number of seats on each of its flights for just $10, flies to such cities as Boston (via the Portsmouth, N.H. airport) and Jacksonville, Fla. (via the airport in St. Augustine).

Its flight list also includes: Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Oakland and Burbank, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Biloxi, Miss.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

Also Monday, Air Tran confirmed it will begin a Saturday-only non-stop service between Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 16. An Air Tran spokeswoman said if booking volume warrants, the service will expand to multiple weekly flights or daily service.

The Air Tran flight to Fort Myers will be the fourth Florida city accessible via a non-stop flight out of the Buffalo airport.

"When this flight starts, we'll have five direct locations in Florida, and not that long ago we didn't have any," Meckler said.

Travelers currently have non-stop options to Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours will initiate flights from the Niagara Falls airport to St. Petersburg in late December.