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Big Apple Air

Published: 02/06/2015 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2015 » June 2015 » Destinations »

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If the entire New York aviation market were served by a single airport, it would be the busiest in the US, hosting some 116 million passengers in 2014.  (By contrast, Atlanta welcomed a mere 96 million).  The mythical one New York airport would also easily vault past Chicago O’Hare as the airport with the most take-offs and landings – over 1.2 million operations annually.

Of course, as most business travelers know, New York is served by not one, but several airports, the best-known and largest three of which are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia. And, as most business travelers into the city also know, all three typically rate among the least favorite airports in the world among fliers of all stripes. In fact, LaGuardia – which Vice President Joe Biden once famously compared to “some third-world country” – consistently ranks at the bottom of the list of US airports.

But let’s be fair. New York’s airports have been a cornerstone of the US commercial aviation system for most of the industry’s 100-year history. They were all designed and constructed decades prior to the Jet Age, at a time when planes were a lot smaller, as were passenger numbers – and their expectations.

The irony is that New York’s airports are in a way victims their own success, and the success of the national aviation system they serve. Three airports that were state-of-the-art in the 1930s and 40s have helped create burgeoning demand for air travel into the Big Apple, and now the city is finding that mapping out reasonable alternatives is far more complicated and cost-prohibitive than in years gone by. 


However that is not stopping the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the politicians in Albany from trying. In January 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that management responsibility for construction at LaGuardia and JFK would be assumed by the state of New York “to help break gridlock and make necessary improvements.”

Then in October 2014, Cuomo – with Biden at his side – unveiled an international design competition for each of the two New York airports. These competitions invited aviation experts, architects, designers, planners and others to submit visionary master plans to transform and modernize both LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports. 

Cuomo followed up in January 2015 announcing a plan to build the AirTrain rail link between LaGuardia and the subway.  LGA is the only one of New York’s three major airports that lacks a rail connection.  No timetable has been announced yet for the $450 million 1.5-mile project.

“Our airports are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and bringing millions of visitors to New York State every year,”  Cuomo said at the announcement.  “By reimagining them from the ground up, we’re making an investment that will strengthen our state for years into the future.”

While all this reimagining is going on, the Port Authority is nearing the end of a drawn out bidding process for a major $3.6 billion overhaul of LaGuardia.  Fittingly enough central to the plan is the replacement of the existing Central Terminal Building. 

The current CTB opened to the public in 1964 and was designed for a capacity of 8 million passengers a year – remember, LGA currently handles over three times that many.  In the 1990s the airport underwent an extensive expansion project that grew the facility to approximately 835,000 square feet. The six-block long terminal consists of a four-story central section, two three-story wings and four concourses that can accommodate up to 35 aircraft gates. 

The proposed new 1.3-million-square-foot terminal building will house 35 gates and all the retail, food and beverage and security facilities associated with a modern airport.  In addition new frontage roads and new parking facilities will replace the current, outdated ones and on the airside new ramps and runway safety enhancements are promised.

It’s not certain what impact Cuomo’s master plan competition will have on projects currently in the pipeline for PANYNJ, but what is clear is that the new CTB is intended to blend into the larger vision for New York airports, not be supplanted by it. 

Concerned that the master plan initiative would derail CTB construction and other major airport projects in the region, the Global Gateway Alliance, an airport advocacy group of leaders from New York’s business, government, academic and labor communities, sent a letter to PANYNJ urging the authority “to continue moving forward with the existing major improvement projects at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports” – especially the CTB project at LaGuardia.

In its response, the Port Authority said, “The broader airport design competition announced by Governor Cuomo earlier this fall should not impede our schedule in any way and both initiatives can proceed in parallel without duplication of effort or cost.” Even without further delays, replacement of the central terminal building will not be completed until 2023 according to the current timeline.

However, things at dear old LGA are not standing still.  In December, the first wave of upgrades have hit LaGuardia’s Terminal B with the opening of new shops, restaurants and services.  The openings are part of an overall strategy to upgrade the food and retail offerings while planning continues on the new terminal.

The call for development of a master plan is still short on details as of this writing – and omits such trivialities as cost and timeline.  But the initiative has at least shaken up the conversation about the aging airport.   


Soon after LaGuardia opened in 1939, it became apparent that New York would need another airport, and work began on what was originally known as Idlewild Airport named after the golf course it replaced.  Early designs called for one large terminal building, but the airline tenants balked, saying that would be inadequate for future traffic – a claim that turned out to be presciently accurate. The subsequent plan laid out a central circular roadway ringed by individual terminal buildings designed and built by the airlines.  

As a result, through the decades the central terminal area has seen a number of terminals – and the airlines that they served – rise and fall.  The 1955 master plan called for a total of seven terminal buildings; in the intervening years there have been as many as ten, and today there are a grand total of six in operation (although they are confusingly numbered 1 through 8, with the phantom terminals 3 and 6 no longer in existence).

Renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport following the assassination of the President in 1963, JFK has been the object of almost continuous renewal in the past decade or so, with tens of billions of dollars invested by the Port Authority and the airlines in new infrastructure. Delta’s new Terminal 4 is a much-needed upgrade for its international service and JetBlue’s T5 and new T5i incorporate the iconic Eero Saarinen-designed terminal originally known as the TWA Flight Center, which has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.  

No longer suitable for actual flight operations, the Flight Center’s ‘head house,’ as the surviving gull-wing structure is known, has been sitting mostly vacant since TWA faded away in the early 2000s.  Proposals have been floated by several developers, among them JetBlue itself, to turn it into an on-airport hotel for JFK.  

However Governor Cuomo’s master plan proposal for JFK calls for “improving hotel and/or meeting and conference centers in and around the airport,” and as a result, the idea of adaptive reuse of the Flight Center has been put on hold pending the outcome of the planning process.  Beyond that, the guidelines also call for the planners to incorporate “potential ‘Aerotropolis’ or ‘Airport City’ concepts” either on the airport proper or near it with office complexes, conference centers, medical facilities or industry.

Given the billions in upgrades to the central terminal area that have already been made, any master plan is unlikely to propose sweeping changes here.  However other critical passenger-facing areas are on the table, such as improvements to JFK’s existing AirTrain and the subway system serving the airport, better security throughput and more diverse dining, entertainment and retail options.


Newark Liberty International Airport has had a spotty record at best since it opened in 1928.  For awhile in the 1930s it was the world’s busiest airport and New York City’s only air portal.  The story goes that the city’s feisty mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was so incensed at landing at Newark – even though his ticket said “New York” – that he demanded the flight continue to an air strip in Brooklyn, and gave an impromptu news conference along the way.  

LaGuardia’s stunt was the catalyst for developing the airport that bears his name, and marked the beginning of a bumpy flight for Newark. During World War II the field was taken over by the military, and in the 1950s saw a series of tragic accidents which resulted in a brief closure but a lingering unpopularity with travelers.

By the 1980s however, passenger traffic at EWR had expanded dramatically and today it welcomes more than 35 million passengers a year. Two of its three terminals, A and B, date back to the 1970s while Terminal C was completed in 1988.  An expanded Terminal C, complete with a new international arrivals concourse and baggage claim, was opened in 2003.  In 2008 Terminal B also received some much-needed upgrades, including expanded ticketing areas, a new departure level for domestic flights, and a new arrivals hall.

Old Terminal A is in the PANYNJ 10-year capital plan for replacement, but the work is not slated to begin in earnest until 2019 with a completion date at the end of 2022. Another item on the Port Authority’s to-do list is a $1.5 billion extension of the PATH rail connection that would provide a one-seat mass transit link between the airport and Midtown.  The project is scheduled for completion by 2024, according to the Port Authority projections.

The fact is, since 1928 aviation has grown at such a breakneck pace New York’s airports have never really had a chance to take a breath and catch up. It seems something about each of these gateways is in perpetual need of an upgrade, leaving one or the other of them in a constant state of ‘never-quite-finished.’  

But the demand is only going to continue to grow. So today’s planners seem bent on getting ahead of the curb, an outlook that gratifies the Global Gateway Alliance’s chairman and founder Joe Sitt.  

“For too long, New York area airports got the short shrift when it came to budgeting, leaving terminals outdated, outmoded and unfit for the 21st century passenger. And to that end, the Governor is right to want a comprehensive vision for the region’s airports,” Sitt says.  “But now the Port Authority needs to advance the necessary airport improvement projects already in the pipeline.” 


Delta Makes a Move at Shanghai-Pudong – Delta has moved its Shanghai-Pudong (PVG) operations from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to co-locate with codeshare partners, China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.  The new codeshare agreement with Shanghai Airlines provides access to four new destinations from Shanghai – Zhengzhou, Guiyang, Nanning and Tianjin.

Visit to find out more.

LATAM Plans New Hub in Northeast Brazil – LATAM Airlines Group S.A. has started feasibility studies to develop the first international and domestic hub in northeast Brazil. The studies will assess the possibility of building and operating a hub in one of three potential cities – Fortaleza, Natal and Recife. 

Today, domestic carriers are primarily focused on the southeast and south of Brazil, as well as Brasília. The main objective is to expand LATAM’s operations between Europe and South America, taking into consideration the strategic geographic position of the northeast region.

The host city is expected to be chosen by the end of 2015, with operations expected to start in December 2016.

Cuba Travel Services Announces JetBlue Deal to Havana – Charter operator Cuba Travel Services will soon begin offering a second flight from JFK to Havana, Cuba operated by JetBlue Airlines. The flight will be aboard an Airbus A320 aircraft for the 3 hour and 20 minute flight to the Cuban capital.

The new flight will complement Sun Country Airlines’ current Tuesday flight. To learn more visit


Delta Introduces New Colombia Routes – Delta Airlines has announced two new routes to Latin America beginning Dec. 19. The new daily Atlanta-Medellin route will operate aboard a Boeing 737-700, and the thrice-weekly Atlanta-Cartegena service will operate using a Boeing 737-800.

Tickets are on sale now at

Virgin America’s Newest Destination Is Hawaii – Virgin America has added Honolulu and Maui as their newest destinations. Starting Nov. 2, the carrier will fly daily service between San Francisco International and Honolulu. On Dec. 3, Virgin America begins daily Kahului-Maui service.

For details visit

Air New Zealand Heads Directly to Houston – In December, Air New Zealand will begin providing non-stop service between Auckland and Houston five times per week. The schedule will be operated by a 777-200 aircraft. 

Purchase tickets at

Alaska Airlines Offers New Direct Routes – Beginning in the fall, Alaska Airlines will begin flying daily nonstop service from its hub in Seattle to both Nashville, TN and Raleigh-Durham, NC. The airline will also add a four-times weekly service Charleston, SC.

The carrier has also announced the addition of two new destinations in Costa Rica: San Jose and Liberia, pending government approval. The Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday service between Los Angeles and San Jose begins Oct. 31, and the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday flights LAX to Liberia start Nov 1. To find out more visit

Qatar Airways Adds More Daily US Service – Starting in 2016, Qatar Airways expands its US service with the addition of three new daily nonstop flights to each of three cities. Service to Los Angeles begins in January, Boston starts in March and Atlanta is added in July. For details visit

By Dan Booth

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