New Airline Would Like to Use Falls Airport in N.Y.

A Chicago-based "vacation" airline is eyeing the Niagara Falls International Airport as a 2007 destination.

Festival Airlines, a start-up carrier slated to take off later this year, is talking with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority about adding Niagara Falls to its flight roster.

"We're working hard to land regularly scheduled charter service to the Niagara Falls airport, and this is another strong lead," said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler.

"As we get closer and closer to building a new terminal, it's important that we have actual traffic to back up our passenger projections."

Festival Airlines representatives could not be reached to comment on their interest in Niagara Falls, but the airline is working with a consultant with personal knowledge of the Western New York and Southern Ontario tourism markets. Larry Lewin, a veteran Hyatt Gaming executive, had served as president of Niagara Casinos, the parent firm of Niagara Fallsview Casino and Casino Niagara, from July 2004 through August 2005.

Festival announced in March that its inaugural flights would depart the Chicago/Rockford International Airport, located approximately 85 miles northwest of Chicago in Rockford, Ill., late this year. The airline has yet to unveil details of its exact destinations in North and South America, but has said it plans to offer flights to Orlando and Las Vegas on a year-round basis, with additional trips to Florida, as well as the Caribbean and Mexico in the winter months.

The Festival Airlines Web site notes: "You probably won't find us flying to many of our destinations seven days a week. Instead, we intend to fly at the times when vacation travelers are on the go."

If the airline selects Niagara Falls as a destination, flights would likely be offered between May and October.

Williams Gateway Airport, in Mesa, Ariz., has confirmed it is talking with Festival about becoming a destination for future flights.

The airline has said tickets for its flight-only service will cost between $195 and $395 round trip. Prices for vacation packages will vary by destination, but Festival said it will keep costs low through strategic relationships with hotel and cruise line partners.

Festival plans to utilize a Florida-based fleet of 200-passenger Boeing 757s.

Meckler said Festival is one of several "strong leads" the NFTA is pursuing to bring the nearly idle Niagara Falls airport back to life.

"We have a number of good prospects for both passenger and cargo flights," Meckler said. "We're feeling very good about the chances of having a lot more activity in Niagara Falls in 2007."

The NFTA also is in talking with Myrtle Beach Direct, a charter service that specializes in golf vacations in Myrtle Beach, S.C., about offering flights here next year.

Two cargo handlers, Virginia-based Gemini Air Cargo and Yangtze River Express, headquartered in Shanghai, also are considering hubs at the Niagara Falls airfield.

Other active leads include Eurofly, an Italian airline that flies charters to Milan, and Martin Air, a Dutch cargo carrier.

The NFTA wants to construct a new $23 million terminal at the Niagara County airport as early as next year. The authority needs about $4 million more to make the project a reality.

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