by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Niagara Aerospace Museum has hit some turbulence in recent years, bouncing to several different locations as it attempted to showcase some 100 years of local aviation history.
Come this May, the museum is expected to be up and running in a space that those attending the Jan. 4 press conference announcing the move described as "perfect" - the old terminal at Niagara Falls International Airport.
Museum officials will be leasing about two-thirds of the building from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the airport. The lease also includes arrangements for free parking for museum visitors.
"Western New York has a rich history in aviation, and I am glad that we were able to find a place where the community can enjoy and learn about this history for many years to come," said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, longtime supporter of the airport as an economic engine, who led the press conference. "I applaud the Niagara Aerospace Museum and NFTA for providing this permanent venue not only (for) the residents to enjoy, but for the increasing number of tourists flying in and out of the Niagara Falls International Airport."
The press conference was held in the portion of the old terminal closest to the new terminal and the former Bell plant.
Hugh M. Neeson, museum development director, and Paul Faltyn, museum coordinator and vice president of its board of trustees, said this space, which will hold most of the museum's displays, was a hangar back in the 1930s and 1940s for planes used in the airport shuttle service. In more recent years, the space was used for processing non-U.S. passengers and for baggage handling.
Neeson said the museum started out in Wheatfield at the old Summit Park Mall on Williams Road, then moved to the former Carborundum Building on Third Street in Niagara Falls, but moved again when the Seneca Nation of Indians took over that property. It had a temporary home for exhibits for three years with the Buffalo Sabres at the former HSBC Arena. The museum's library and restoration facility were located in the old Bell Aerospace plant and will remain there when the new museum opens.
The exhibits used to be packed into about 9,000 square feet of space. The terminal will provide elbow room with nearly 15,000 square feet for exhibits that have been in storage.
Faltyn said the exhibits will provide a timeline of Western New York's aviation history from pre-World War II to the present, including a section dedicated to the Bell helicopter. At any given time, there will be eight to 10 actual aircraft on display in addition to the exhibits, he said.
Maziarz said a glass wall overlooking the runway will offer the opportunity for vintage aircraft to be flown in and be part of the display.
Maziarz noted that in September 2009, he stood at a podium at the new terminal and speculated what would happen at the old terminal and stated that it would be an excellent site for a permanent home for the aerospace museum, given its proximity to the historic Bell plant, the present Calspan and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
"This area is the birthplace of the early aircraft industry," said Niagara County Legislature Chairman Bill Ross. "What a beautiful place and the right place for the museum."
Last year, more than 200,000 passengers flew out of the new terminal. Since the new terminal opened, six new hotels were built along Niagara Falls Boulevard and shops and restaurants along Military Road are at an all time high, Maziarz pointed out. With the museum, Canadian visitors waiting for flights will have another thing to do, he said.
Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe agreed, calling the museum an "important piece of the airport puzzle."
Town of Niagara Councilman Danny Sklarski added that the museum will interest both local residents and those who view this area as a destination point.
Faltyn said the museum plans to advertise its new location in trade journals. That will attract pilots who might want to fly in to see the displays and possibly more of the area. They can buy fuel right at the airport.
"There's a lot of advantages to being located on an airport," he said.