By Roz Hamlett and Ashley Germinario, Media Relations Staff
Until now, the only thing missing from Stewart International Airport was the international. With the commencement of regularly scheduled low-cost flights to Europe on Norwegian Airlines, the one-time U.S. Air Force base joins the Port Authority’s network of truly intercontinental airports.
But without the forward thinking of one influential aviation enthusiast, the former sprawl of upstate New York farmland might never have become an airport, let alone an emerging player in international commercial flight.
In 1930, Archie Stewart had the remarkable foresight to convince his uncle, Samuel Lachlan Stewart, to donate more than 200 acres of the family’s farmland to the city of Newburgh for an airport. Commercial aviation was on the rise, and Stewart reasoned that the city would need an airport for its economy to grow.
The first big boost came four years later when the U.S. Military Academy at West Point built the first airfield for cadet aviation training at the behest of its superintendent, Douglas MacArthur (the same MacArthur who would later distinguish himself as a five-star general during World War II).
During the Cold War years of the 1950s, a concrete spy bunker – one of 22 constructed nationwide – allowed the Air Force to monitor the activity of enemy planes. The air base was deactivated in 1970, with the state of New York acquiring the land and turning the airport in the direction of commercial aviation.
It was then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller who, after seeing the long runways, envisioned the airport’s potential as a hub for intercontinental flights. After its closure as an air force base, Rockefeller put together an ambitious plan to expand and develop the airport.
In 1985, W.R. Grace built the first corporate hangar, becoming the first private company to invest in the airport, and several businesses began operations there during the decade. In 1989, American Airlines announced the beginning of scheduled domestic flight service at Stewart, followed by American Eagle and United Express.
That same year, the airport opened a 50,000-square-foot air cargo building, and the U.S. Postal Service began operating its new mail distribution facility. In 2000, Stewart signed a 99-year lease with National Express Corporation, becoming the first privatized commercial airport. At the time, the only international flights from Stewart were seasonal charter flights to Cancun.
The PA purchased the lease in 2007 from National Express and made the airport part of the region’s airport system. Through more than $180 million in investments, the Port Authority transformed the airport into an efficient transportation hub with convenient parking, shorter lines, and personalized customer service – an experience not always possible in the region’s larger airports.
After being underused for years with just a handful of carriers offering a limited number of flights, the airport is emerging as ‘New York’s Other Airport.’