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What do you do if you have an airport with growing international traffic and a runway long enough for the world’s biggest passenger jet, but you are far from major cities and don’t have great ground transportation? Easy: You make yourself more attractive by changing your name to something better known than “Stewart International Airport” — for example, adopting the name of the closest metropolis, New York City. Too bad it’s more than 60 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.
On Thursday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport as well as NYC’s other three — Newark, La Guardia and Kennedy — voted to change the name of Stewart International Airport (SWF) to something else, although it hasn’t decided yet to what. The airport is about an hour and a half (with low traffic) north of New York City and just made a big leap in relevance last year, when Norwegian started trans-Atlantic flights from SWF to Europe.
That’s a long way from the 1930s, when the Stewart family donated land for what became known as “Stewart Field.” Now local authorities are hoping to market the airport as a metropolitan area facility and change the name to New York International at Stewart Field. At least according to Orange County Chamber of Commerce President Lynne Cione.
“It’s 88 years later,” she said. “We have computers; we need to be geo-located. It’s very important for people to know how close we are to New York City.”
Stewart Airport Commission Chairman Louis Heimbach disagreed, stating that a name other than New York International at Stewart Field should be considered because “Stewart is not a field,” he said at a press conference.
“It was a field in the 1930s when it was a grass place and it conjures up barnstormers. Stewart Airport is bigger than LaGuardia and Newark combined. It has one of the longest runways in your system so I think that would be a disservice to call it ‘field’ and I don’t think people from Europe or coming any place in the civilized world wants to land in a field these days,” Heimbach added.
The man has a point, although “bigger” is relative — Stewart may be very large in surface area, but it’s tiny in passenger numbers. SWF had 45,000 passengers in November 2017, while LaGuardia alone moved 2.5 million.
Another big reason that the airport may change its name has to do with Legos — yes, the toy bricks.
Legoland New York spokesman Phil Royle was also at the meeting, because Legoland recently unrelieved plans to open its newest park in Goshen, which is only 16 miles from SWF. Royle said the airport does need to be associated with New York because Legoland plans to bring “2.5 million more visitors to the Hudson Valley from spring 2020,” he said. “They need an airport that is internationally recognized that is marketing in the right way that they can land into,” Royle said.
The board of the Port Authority also voted on Thursday to spend $30,000,000 to build a new facility separating domestic and international passengers, as mandated by federal regulations. The real expense to make SWF truly viable for New Yorkers may have to go into infrastructure, though, to make the airport reachable more easily.
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