Passenger counts at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in March - and for the first quarter - continued to fall, but there are signs that a turnaround may be in the offing.
According to statistics compiled by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, outbound passengers in March fell 2.63 percent, from 222,180 in March 2009 to 216,347 this year. The decrease was attributed to a number of factors, from the weak national economy and winter weather in other cities that caused a handful of cancelled flights to shifting patterns by some of the air carriers servicing the airport, officials said.
William Vanecek, NFTA director of aviation, said Southwest went from two daily flights to Las Vegas in March to a single, direct flight. Other airlines made seasonal scheduling adjustments.
"Collectively, these things add up," he said.
For the first quarter, outbound passenger counts fell 2.23 percent. The airport handled 570,350 outbound fliers in the January-to-March period this year, compared with 583,360 for the same period last year.
Southwest Airlines remains the airport's busiest commercial carrier. The low-cost airline had 61,522 outbound passengers in March, or approximately 28 percent of all customers using the airport.
JetBlue was the second-busiest carrier with 38,354 outbound passengers, roughly 18 percent of the Cheektowaga facility's total passenger count.
USAirways handled 36,112 outbound passengers while recently merged Delta/Northwest handled 34,910 outbound passengers. USAirways had 17 percent of the passenger count; Delta/Northwest handled 16 percent.
Canadian passengers account for about 38 percent of people using the airport. Canadians are attracted to it because of low-cost carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran, as well as direct routes to popular destinations in Florida, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Another plus: The local airport is easier to navigate than Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
"The Canadian presence remains strong," Vanecek said.
Meanwhile, the NFTA is seeing signs that airlines are beefing up local flights - a signal that the economy may be getting stronger.
In April, American Airlines added 13 flights to its weekly schedule with more links between Buffalo Niagara International Airport and O'Hare International Airport. American now has 34 weekly flights between Buffalo and Chicago.
Delta Airlines, meanwhile, added 13 weekly flights between Buffalo and Detroit, giving it 46 between the two cities.
In a related matter, the NFTA said a carrier that will be running daily flights between Newark and Niagara Falls International Airport has pushed back its seasonal starting date from Memorial Day weekend to July 2. The flights are operated by Rainbow Tours, which will fly a 50-seat jet between the two cities. The regional jets will leave Newark at 7 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. and arrive in Niagara Falls one hour later.
The Niagara Falls-to-Newark flights will leave the new Niagara Falls International Airport terminal at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. daily.
The flights are scheduled to run through Oct. 16.