Four new bag­gage carousels will dou­ble ca­pac­ity

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

now us­ing the Cheek­towaga fa­cil­ity each year.

Air­port of­fi­cials say they are bring­ing Buf­falo’s air­port into the 21st cen­tury.

“This is all about ad­dress­ing a vol­ume-based need and cre­at­ing a bet­ter cus­tomer ser­vice for our pas­sen­gers,” said Wil­liam R. Vanecek, NFTA di­rec­tor of avi­a­tion.

Pre­lim­i­nary work starts Dec. 18, with ma­jor con­struc­tion to fol­low in the spring.

It all un­folds af­ter the NFTA last week cel­e­brated Buf­falo Ni­a­gara’s rank­ing as the con­ti­nent’s top medium-sized air­port for cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion by the J.D. Power mar­ket­ing in­for­ma­tion firm. Al­ready, the Buf­falo fa­cil­ity is rec­og­nized for its easy ac­cess, smooth-flow­ing se­cu­rity lines, good con­ces­sions and even its clean re­strooms.

Michael Tay­lor, J.D. Power’s air­port study di­rec­tor, noted Buf­falo Ni­a­gara ranks among the top three in all cat­e­gories, and missed scor­ing as best over­all air­port by just one point (that goes to John Wayne In­ter­na­tional in Orange County, Calif.). His com­pany also mea­sures cat­e­gories like prox­im­ity to gates and over­all at­mos­phere.

“This is an oa­sis com­pared to the mad­houses that many air­ports are to­day,” he said.

But now the NFTA looks to its air­port’s fu­ture with im­prove­ments such as:

•New walk­ways curv­ing around the main ter­mi­nal’s east and west ends that pro­vide di­rect ac­cess to es­ca­la­tors and ground-floor bag­gage claims. The goal is to elim­i­nate con­ges­tion near the cur­rent up­per-level el­e­va­tors caused by the mix of ar­riv­ing and de­part­ing pas­sen­gers.

• Four bag­gage carousels to re­place three ex­ist­ing bag­gage belts, dou­bling ca­pac­ity. Sloped plates on the carousels will take over for the cur­rent flat­plate sys­tem. Vanecek said the por­tals from which un­loaded bag­gage ar­rives have al­ways posed a se­cu­rity prob­lem.

“We had a rock band once that thought it would be fun to ride the belt through those things,” Vanecek said. “They won’t be able to do that any­more.”

• Ex­panded stor­age area for lost or de­layed bag­gage await­ing claim by own­ers, elim­i­nat­ing the “sea of bag­gage” of­ten clog­ging the lower level.

•New curb space at both ends of the ter­mi­nal, con­sid­ered a pre­mium at Buf­falo Ni­a­gara.

•Re­lo­cat­ing fa­mil­iar con­ces­sions like the up­per floor’s Lake Erie Grill and air­port bar­ber­shop.

•A cen­tral­ized play area for chil­dren, along with a tech cen­ter pro­vid­ing work space and cell­phone charg­ing.

• A new and pro­tected bus wait­ing area on the lower level.

•“Green” walls with plant­ings to fil­ter the in­te­rior at­mos­phere.

Most of the project will be funded by pas­sen­ger fa­cil­ity charges tacked onto each ticket bought at the air­port along with NFTA bor­row­ing and about $1.8 mil­lion so far com­mit­ted by New York State.

While to­day’s trav­el­ers as­sign high marks to Buf­falo Ni­a­gara, Vanecek said plan­ners rec­og­nize the need for im­prove­ments. When the new air­port was com­pleted in 1997, he said, it ac­com­mo­dated the ap­prox­i­mately 3 mil­lion peo­ple pass­ing through its gates each year.

But sig­nif­i­cant changes be­gan shortly af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of 2001 trans­formed avi­a­tion for­ever. Now se­cu­rity lines snake through the air­port’s main lobby (for which it was not de­signed), pre­sent­ing a host of lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges never con­tem­plated at its 1997 ded­i­ca­tion.

And in the years fol­low­ing, new car­ri­ers like JetBlue and South­west landed at Buf­falo Ni­a­gara in 2000, spark­ing de­mand for air travel and an up­ward trend that con­tin­ues through to­day. While the air­port ex­panded in­cre­men­tally from 15 to 24 gates to han­dle the in­creased traf­fic, other ser­vices have lagged – es­pe­cially in­ter­nal pas­sen­ger flows and bag­gage han­dling.

“All our other sup­port func­tions stayed stag­nant,” Vanecek said, not­ing the air­port still main­tained high cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion rat­ings.

Re­cently, the air­port has re­turned to the 5 mil­lion mark it noted be­fore a wave of air­line con­sol­i­da­tions and other eco­nomic fac­tors sup­pressed air travel for sev­eral years. Now and in the near fu­ture, how­ever, of­fi­cials project even higher pas­sen­ger to­tals (in­clud­ing about 40 per­cent of air­port trav­el­ers from South­ern On­tario).

And if Buf­falo Ni­a­gara is to con­tinue at­tract­ing new and im­proved air ser­vice, Vanecek said, its fa­cil­i­ties must keep pace.

As a re­sult, NFTA of­fi­cials re­cently awarded a $52.7 mil­lion con­tract to the Pike Co. of Rochester for su­per­vis­ing the project as gen­eral con­trac­tor. The first phase calls for crews to fence off the west side “limo lot” to iden­tify hid­den util­ity lines for re­lo­ca­tion. That area will even­tu­ally house a new en­closed cor­ri­dor for in­ter­na­tional and char­ter flight pas­sen­gers who have cleared cus­toms and cur­rently must walk out­doors to ac­cess shut­tles, taxis and parked ve­hi­cles.

Early plans also call for stag­ing con­struc­tion equip­ment in the longterm lot’s over­flow area. Cus­tomers will soon be­gin to feel some ef­fects, Vanecek said.

“It’s not like there will be a steady stream of trucks, but there will be some dis­rup­tion in traf­fic,” he said of the project’s early stages. “You could run into a de­lay or two.”

Trav­el­ers will be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence more tan­gi­ble con­struc­tion ef­fects in 2020 when crews be­gin “bang­ing through walls,” Vanecek added.

The air­port’s eastern end, in­clud­ing new pas­sage­ways for pas­sen­gers ar­riv­ing on flights and ex­it­ing the fa­cil­ity, are slated for the fi­nal phases in 2021.

Vanecek said the con­struc­tion and re­sult­ing dis­rup­tions may de­tract from fu­ture J.D. Power sur­veys, but he is not con­cerned.

“When they’re done, we’ll go right back up,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

New f light op­tions

Most car­ri­ers at Buf­falo Ni­a­gara In­ter­na­tional Air­port con­tinue to ex­pand ser­vice, in­clud­ing th­ese new, non­stop op­tions:

•Amer­i­can Air­lines daily to Dal­las-Fort Worth on full-sized A-319 jets de­part­ing Buf­falo at 6:30 a.m. be­gin­ning Dec. 20.

•Amer­i­can “mostly daily,” with ex­act de­tails still to be fi­nal­ized, on A-319s to Mi­ami in sea­sonal ser­vice be­gin­ning Dec. 20 un­til April 2, de­part­ing Buf­falo at 6:04 a.m.

•Fron­tier Air­lines to Den­ver in­creas­ing from twice weekly to daily be­gin­ning April 30, with vary­ing times.

•South­west Air­lines be­gins daily to Den­ver on June 9 with 7:40 a.m. de­par­tures from Buf­falo and re­turns de­part­ing from Den­ver at 11:55 a.m. (Moun­tain time).

•JetBlue to Los An­ge­les will elim­i­nate cur­rent red-eye re­turns, with Buf­falo de­par­tures to Los An­ge­les at 1:25 p.m. be­gin­ning Feb. 14, and re­turns de­part­ing at 5:10 p.m. (Pa­cific time) and ar­riv­ing in Buf­falo at 12:53 a.m.

New ser­vices are also planned for Mon­tego Bay in Ja­maica; Can­cun, Mex­ico; and Punta Cana, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, with de­tails to be worked out. One dis­ap­point­ment in­cluded the Au­gust end of round-trip ser­vice to Al­bany in­tro­duced last Fe­bru­ary by OneJet Air­lines.

NFTA plans to im­prove Buf­falo Ni­a­gara In­ter­na­tional Air­port in­clude re­lo­cat­ing fa­mil­iar con­ces­sions, a cen­tral­ized play area for chil­dren and a tech cen­ter pro­vid­ing work space and cell­phone charg­ing.

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