A iron beam bearing signatures of numerous elected and transportation officials was hoisted Friday afternoon and fixed atop the skeleton of a future building extension at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Officials call it a milestone in a project that will continue through the spring of 2022.
Ironworkers lifted the beam shortly after Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority executive director Kimberley Minkel led a news conference explaining its significance to the project.
"This expansion project is a culmination of the wonderful success that we've had here at the Buffalo Airport," she said. "We're very proud of our record, particularly our consistent high rankings with J.D. Power."
Buffalo ranked third among medium-sized airports in J.D. Power's 2019 survey of passenger satisfaction, finishing behind only Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
The $61 million expansion will include updates to the airport's aging baggage security and distribution systems. The plan is also designed to improve pedestrian flow and ease congestion along the arrival and departure curbs.
Bill Vanecek, the airport's director of aviation, noted the growth of gates and service to and from Buffalo in recent years.
"I started back in 1998, where we had just opened up a 15-gate facility. We now have 25 gates," he said. "Now we've had to do the construction necessary to accommodate the influx of passengers that are coming to our community now. As Buffalo rises, so does the number of visitors to Buffalo, New York. We want to make sure we're giving them the appropriate type of welcome when they get to the airport."
From the cost of the project, an estimated $51 million was raised from a surcharge added to passengers' tickets. More than $8 million comes from an NFTA Airport Development Fund.