Up­grades for NOTL air­port

The Welland Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LAN BENNER

Fly­ing about 2,000 feet above the calm wa­ter of Lake On­tario, traffic grid­lock on the busy high­way to the west seems a dis­tant mem­ory.

It takes about 90 min­utes to drive roughly 120 km along the QEW be­tween Ni­a­gara and Toronto.

Aboard a FlyGTA plane, that trip takes 12 to 13 min­utes.

It’s the short­est com­muter flight in North Amer­ica, said Chris Nowrouzi, FlyGTA Air­line’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

A lit­tle more than a year since the com­pany be­gan of­fer­ing sched­uled com­muter ser­vices, Nowrouzi an­nounced plans to build new fa­cil­i­ties at Ni­a­gara District Air­port in Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake, while also of­fer­ing new flight des­ti­na­tions for its pas­sen­gers.

“Our team is com­mit­ted to a large-scale project with Ni­a­gara District Air­port,” Nowrouzi said dur­ing a me­dia conference Tues­day at Billy Bishop Air­port in down­town Toronto.

That project in­cludes a 3,600-square-me­tre main­te­nance hangar to be con­structed next year, in­clud­ing a lux­ury ter­mi­nal fea­tur­ing “crew rest ar­eas, plan­ning ar­eas, and ev­ery­thing that goes along with it,” he said.

“It will be very high-end lux­ury.”

When that ini­tial fa­cil­ity is com­pleted, Nowrouzi said the com­pany hopes to be­gin con­struc­tion of a sec­ond large hangar at the air­port, part of a 50-year lease the com­muter air­line signed with the air­port com­mis­sion ear­lier this year.

The new fa­cil­i­ties will help sup­port ad­di­tional ser­vices of­fered by the air­line that cur­rently car­ries up to eight pas­sen­gers at a time be­tween Ni­a­gara District and Billy Bishop air­ports — at a cost of $99 per one-way trip, tax in­cluded.

On Nov. 6, sched­uled com­muter flight ser­vices will be of­fered to Re­gion of Water­loo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, as well as Lake Sim­coe Re­gional Air­port in Bar­rie.

Flights be­tween Toronto and those des­ti­na­tions are ex­pected to take less than 20 min­utes, and cost $129 each, tax in­cluded.

And be­fore the end of the year, the com­pany plans to of­fer sched­uled ser­vice to Lon­don, Ont., In­ter­na­tional Air­port as well.

Nowrouzi said the air­line is in­vest­ing in new air­craft to sup­port the in­creased ser­vices, with plans to buy sev­eral planes to com­ple­ment its ex­ist­ing fleet of eight pas­sen­ger planes. Al­though he de­scribed it as a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment, Nowrouzi wouldn’t say how much his com­pany plans to spend on the project.

But he is con­fi­dent the num­bers will add up, judg­ing by the suc­cess his com­pany has seen in Ni­a­gara.

Nowrouzi said de­mand quickly grew for the com­muter flights his com­pany be­gan of­fer­ing in Septem­ber 2016, and the air­line re­sponded by dou­bling the flights be­tween Ni­a­gara and Toronto.

And de­spite the $99 price tag, he said the com­muter flights “make sense” once the cost of fuel and park­ing is added up, along with the time spent driv­ing along the high­ways.

“A lot of our flights are full these days. It’s great,” Nowrouzi said.

Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte said the com­muter flights are a “huge ben­e­fit” to cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives who might need a fast trip across the lake. But the ser­vice is also in­ex­pen­sive enough that in­di­vid­u­als might use it, too, for trips to Rogers Cen­tre, for in­stance.

“You can en­joy the whole day in­stead of spend­ing four or five hours in traffic,” Darte said.

Ni­a­gara Re­gion Chair­man Alan Caslin called the com­pany’s ser­vices as well as its plans for the lo­cal air­port “a game-changer in Ni­a­gara.”

“It’s a great en­abler for busi­ness,” he said while vis­it­ing Billy Bishop Air­port for the an­nounce­ment.

For peo­ple trav­el­ling to an im­por­tant meet­ing or event, Caslin said “count­ing on the high­way is just not an op­tion any­more, when you’re talk­ing about the amount of traffic and the un­cer­tainty of what you can ex­pect in terms of de­lay, whether for con­struc­tion or ac­ci­dents.”

“Hav­ing a way to get to Toronto in 15 min­utes — and then on to other des­ti­na­tions in 20 min­utes or less — makes a whole lot of sense for many busi­ness peo­ple who make the oc­ca­sional trip when it’s im­por­tant to be there and it’s nec­es­sary to get there quickly,” Caslin said.

In ad­di­tion to the en­hance­ments planned by FlyGTA, the Ni­a­gara District Air­port Com­mis­sion is plan­ning sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to the air­port, too. Air­port com­mis­sion chair­man and Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake town Coun. Terry Flynn said plans call for more than 70 air­plane hangars to be added to the fa­cil­ity de­signed to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent-sized air­craft, as well as a new Nav Canada air traffic con­trol tower, com­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers and a so­lar farm.

Those ad­di­tions will likely be added in 2019.

“We do have a lot of land right now that’s sit­ting there that can be built on. That’s where we are now. We’re on that plan­ning stage,” Flynn said.

The FlyGTA an­nounce­ment was wel­come news to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of com­mu­ni­ties be­ing added to the air­line’s des­ti­na­tions.

Re­gion of Water­loo Coun. Tom Gal­loway said it took him two-and-ahalf hours by car to get to Billy Bishop Air­port for the an­nounce­ment.

“It could have been 15 min­utes — 10 times less than what it ac­tu­ally took us,” he said. “I’m very con­fi­dent this ser­vice is go­ing to be well-uti­lized.”

Bar­rie Mayor Jeff Lehman called the plans “a shin­ing ex­am­ple of how innovation within this in­dus­try can de­liver new ser­vice that helps pro­vide con­nec­tiv­ity in south­ern On­tario.”

AL­LAN BENNER/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Jimmy Nowrouzi, FlyGTA Air­line's chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, speaks to his son, com­pany pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Chris Nowrouzi, stand­ing be­side one of their com­muter planes after an­nounc­ing Tues­day Ni­a­gara District Air­port en­hance­ments and ex­panded ser­vices.

AL­LAN BENNER/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Pat Darte and Ni­a­gara District Air­port Com­mis­sion vice-chair Robin Gar­rett are pic­tured aboard a FlyGTA plane pre­par­ing for land­ing at the Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake air­port on Tues­day.

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