Prepared for Takeoff


niagara-airportBy Anna Guy

Ask anyone, anywhere in the world about Niagara Falls, and they’ll most likely know exactly what you are talking about.

Such was the experience of Len O’Connor. While he was working for aviation contractors with the United Nations in Northern Africa, people would ask him where we was from. When “Ontario” and “Toronto” failed to elicit much familiarity (just as I had to Google Oran, Algeria), O’Connor would mention “Niagara Falls”, and everyone would know exactly.

The world-famous Niagara region is serviced by the Niagara District Airport (NDA), where O’Connor is the CEO. The airport services approximately 36,000 movements annually, and, thanks to an vibrant tourism industry, population growth, and increased business interest, that number is growing.

Niagara’s biggest neighbour is Toronto. With six and a half million people within less than 2 hours driving distance, the Niagara Region is ideally located; it’s close enough to conduct business, but far enough to get away from it all. Its wine region, theatre, and, of course, the Falls themselves, are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the area offers.

Daily Flights to Toronto

Which is why the Niagara District Airport and FLYGTA, recently introduced a regular service from the downtown Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to the Niagara region. What typically takes an hour and a half to drive, can now be accessed in a 12-minute flight for $159 return.

“When they started, you have to be able to show them there is a market here, which we did through market cases and surveys here and Toronto. Nine months ago, we started with two flights a day, five days a week,” says O’Connor. The response has been so positive that the schedule has been increased to four flights a day, seven days a week.

“The demand is there,” says O’Connor. “What we have noticed is a lot of people are moving to the Niagara region, and a lot of people in Toronto will retire in Niagara-On-The-Lake.” The flight into the NDA will make it easier for this growing demographic to still access friends, family, and favourite haunts from their old neighbourhoods.


The NDA is one of ten members of Southern Ontario Airport Network, also known as SOAN. The Southern Ontario airports will benefit from the increased economic opportunity and air travel demand facilitated by the mega hub. “There will be significant growth over the next three decades—one of the fastest in north America—and with that comes a demand for air travel,” says O’Connor.

It is estimated by 2043, the region will facilitate 110 million passengers annually. The NDA will participate in completing a catchment and demand study of the region to identify opportunities for future point to point growth in leisure, business aviation and short-haul markets at regional airports.

“We believe it is essential to prepare for this growth by use of capacity because we already have transportation option to link the regions and support the local economies,” says O’Connor. “That is important and a big move for us and we just keep moving it forward.”

The next step is to open the scheduled service to Montreal, then Ottawa, and then into the trans-border market with flights to and from New York City.

Attracting Business

“When I came in here, the commission mandate was to operate the airport as a viable commercial entity, with its primary purpose being meeting the needs of commercial and corporate aviation within the commercial service area of Niagara Region,” says O’Connor. “This includes attracting aviation-related businesses to locate at the airport, supporting local area industrial growth by facilitating access by corporate aviation and encouraging commercial passengers, and air freight services to the extent that markets for these can be developed. And that is what we have done.”
The airport has been approved for a solar project through the Solar FIT program, and in 2018, Transport Canada will be constructing a new flight service station at the airport. There will also be a new Airport Maintenance organization (AMO) building built equipped and able to maintain jets and large aircraft.