by Susan Mikula Campbell
Direct Air's suspension of flights Monday at Niagara Falls International Airport came as a surprise, not only to its customers, but the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
"There was no advance warning that this was going to happen. There were people actually on the plane in one case," said Doug Hartmayer, director of public affairs for NFTA.
The low-cost airline abruptly ceased flights at all the airports it serves on Monday, citing operational problems, and indicated flights would resume in May.
Calls to Direct Air on Wednesday were being directed to the airline's website, which contains the following statement: "Direct Air finds it necessary to suspend flight operation from Tuesday, March 13, 2012, until May 15, 2012. This decision was made to address operational matters. We are currently evaluating strategic alternatives for Direct Air.
"Direct Air is committed to our passengers, employees, and the communities we serve.
"Please check back here for more details."
NFTA also is running the Direct Air statement on its website, adding: "We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused the users of our airport. The NFIA had no control over the suspension of this service."
Asked if the situation would harm the reputation of NFIA, which local leaders see as an economic engine for the county, Hartmayer said, "Anytime you have an airline that suspends or ceases service, it's not a good situation, because it inconveniences our customers."
He added the situation probably couldn't have come at a worse time due to so many people making plans for spring break and Easter trips.
NFTA is continuing as always to look for opportunities to bring in new flights and new airlines to NFIA, Hartmayer said. Direct Air's defection possibly could result in the low-fare Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines, which joined the NFIA roster after the new terminal was built, to expand their services, he said. Both are very strong airlines.
Direct Air started operations at NFIA about five years ago in the old terminal with flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and added flights to various Florida locations as the new terminal was built.
The Sun News in Myrtle Beach where Direct Air is based reported that Direct Air marketing officer Ed Warneck blamed the suspended flights on skyrocketing fuel costs. Direct Air missed a fuel bill, which led to not being able to fuel up the planes, Warneck said Tuesday, according to the Sun News report.
The report added that two of the five carriers (Xtra Airways and Sky King) that fly planes for Direct Air filed notices with the U.S. Department of Transportation that they would stop all Direct Air flights because bills haven't been paid.