It may be hard to believe the gleaming terminal at Buffalo Niagara International Airport turned 15 years old in 2012, especially to manager William R. Vanecek.
“I’m very proud of it. It’s clean; it looks great, and it’s the first impression for a lot of folks visiting Western New York,” he said. “It’s aging well. Nevertheless, we need to address a few things that time has taken hold of.”
Indeed, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority – which operates the airport – continues to gradually implement an airport master plan that is expected to cost $406 million over 20 years. After a series of infrastructure improvements completed in 2012, the authority will tackle several more projects in 2013 that will affect all of the more than 5 million passengers using the facility each year.
This year, those projects will include new doorways on both levels of the terminal, updated restrooms, new phone-charging facilities and the initial stages of a vastly expanded and more efficient baggage-delivery system.
Much of the construction stems from Canadian customers streaming from Ontario to take advantage of the cost savings and convenience of the Buffalo Niagara region. Canadian travelers now make up about 47 percent of the Buffalo airport’s customers, according to the latest NFTA statistics.
“It’s amazing how steady the demand has been,” Vanecek said. “The beauty of it is that it’s another country’s money coming into the United States and Western New York. That’s why we will really focus on Canada.”
Projects just completed in 2012 or nearing completion in 2013, which are mostly funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, include:
• A new internal roadway system concentrating on rebuilding the upper deck at the terminal’s arrival area. The $1.8 million project shored up the roadway to ensure a safe and efficient approach to the terminal.
• New terminal doorways that replace the old revolving doors with sliding glass entryways.
“The old revolving doors were wearing out so we decided to change the look a bit,” Vanecek said. “They are really improving the ability to get in and out of the terminal.”
The $1.7 million project is expected to be completed soon.
• Work began on a new 1,000-space parking area near the control tower that will satisfy peak demands while assuring airlines that are weighing expansion that the airport can handle the load.
“It’s been needed at the airport,” Vanecek said. “There are times we have to go off the airport and rent space. This is good for customer service, good for our bottom line, and it positions ourselves for future growth as well.”
The 20-year master plan calls for expansion of airport parking from 6,800 to 10,500 spaces.
“Eventually we’re planning a parking garage,” he said. “But without this first step, future steps won’t happen.”
Plans slated for 2013 include:
• Initial design phase for an expanded baggage claim system on the terminal’s ground floor.
Vanecek explained that increased business will necessitate replacing the three existing flat-plate carousels with modern slope-plate devices seen in major airports. Designers will begin sketching the improvements in 2013, with work slated for 2014 and 2015 in an overall effort costing $37 million.
• Pre-check clearance. After the nation’s 28 largest airports began implementing a system allowing faster and easier security clearance for frequent fliers and those in the “trusted traveler” program, plans call for phasing in the new system for the Buffalo airport in 2013.
“It’s going to be a big benefit, especially for Canadian travelers,” Vanecek said.
• A compressed natural gas station: A new facility will be built at the airport to fuel parking shuttle vehicles with clean CNG. The station may eventually service Metro Bus too.
Vanecek said initial design will get under way this year at a cost of about $420,000, eventually costing about $5 million.
• Restroom makeover: The authority plans to spend about $1 million to replace fixtures in restrooms throughout the terminal complex.
“It’s time to give them a makeover,” he said.
• Charging stations: Plans also call for installing charging stations for laptops and cellphones in waiting areas throughout the airport.