Photo by Michael Nelson
The story of Stewart International Airport, located in the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor, is a complex one, characterized by twists and turns. But from an economic development perspective, Stewart is a game changer.
Though it’s had a somewhat unsettled past as a variety of public and private entities have taken turns operating it, the airport is now – and for nearly a hundred years going forward – in the hands of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANY/NJ). That’s the same organization that operates the metropolitan area’s other airports (Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark Liberty) and is responsible for bridges, tunnels, bus terminals, a subway system linking the two states, and the region’s marine terminals and ports. The PANY/ NJ also operated the first World Trade Center and is building its replacement.
“Our mission,” says Stewart General Manager Diannae Ehler, “is to bring about a better quality of life to Orange County by strengthening the economic development activities.” The PANY/NJ sees Stewart’s role as a strong regional airport, with sustainable gains in passengers and air cargo the ticket to success. Certainly, all the major economic development agencies in Orange, as well as the entire Hudson Valley, have lined up in support of that objective. The Orange County Chamber of Commerce has been especially vigorous in that vein, prominently posting a “Think Stewart First” ad on its website and urging the 2,000 Chamber members, “When you make arrangements to fly, why not give Stewart a try.”
Since it took over the airport in 2007, the PANY/NJ has spent upwards of $50 million on a host of facility upgrades, including new parking lots, an improved terminal, internal roads to handle traffic from a new I-84 airport exit, and an aeronautical electrical system upgrade that features new runway lights. Ehler points out that at least half of that outlay has gone to local contractors.
Port Authority executives have also taken spots on local boards, initiated a citizen advisory board and, according to the airport’s GM, “forged a strong alliance with the Chamber of Commerce and Orange County Partnership.” In fact, when the Partnership brings prospective clients to the county on recruitment tours, “we always join in the conversations,” Ehler says.
Businesses want to be near airports for obvious reasons. But they also want choices when booking trips. Currently, jetBlue, Delta and US Airways maintain direct flights to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
While Stewart handled about 900,000 passengers in 2007, the total was only 395,000 in 2010. That number, however, represented a gain over 2009, and Port Authority management is implementing a variety of plans to bring additional carriers and routes to the airport.
“We’re trying to help the carriers defray start-up costs.” Ehler says. “We’re providing marketing assistance to help them market new routes.”
According to Ehler, all the assets are in place to turn Stewart into a bellwether regional airport capable of serving a very important part of New York State.
With the Port Authority and the full weight of the local business community behind the effort to revitalize the airport, the forecast is for busier skies over Newburgh.
In a 2010 survey of Stewart International Airport customers – both incoming and outgoing – nearly 90 percent said they were extremely satisfied with the Stewart experience.
On the cargo side, the airport enjoyed nearly a 21 percent increase in tonnage in 2010. Federal Express and United Parcel Service are the primary cargo carriers using Stewart, which is especially appreciated by Orange companies that ship products around the world.