Friday, January 26, 2007



Yes! From Thursday's NY Times:

The plan to create a fourth major airport that could relieve crowding and delays in the metropolitan region will take a leap forward today, officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said yesterday. The Port Authority plans to acquire a 93-year lease on Stewart International Airport, a sleepy and underused airport 60 miles north of New York City, for $78.5 million and begin expanding it starting in the fall, said Anthony R. Coscia, the agency’s chairman.

This is good news. Not everyone thinks so, of course: some people who live near Stewart Airport are worried about increased noise and traffic — and, indeed, if it does become a major airport they'll have to do something about the two-lane road that goes there.

But for me it would be great. Stewart (airport code SWF) is about the same driving distance for me as LaGuardia (LGA), but it's in the other direction from New York City and is much easier to use — less traffic to and from, no likelihood of any traffic jams, much cheaper parking. It has those same advantages over JFK and Newark (EWR) and is closer besides. Only Westchester County Airport (HPN) is closer.

Despite the closeness and convenience of Stewart (and, for that matter, HPN), I never use it. The reason: fares and schedules. Because they're much smaller airports, there's a much more restricted selection of flights, few non-stop destinations, and significantly higher fares. Some years ago the airlines were trying to promote Stewart as an alternative to the airports closer to NYC, and some fares were reasonable. That isn't true now, and hasn't been for at least ten years.

Here's an example of the fares. I'll be going to the IETF meeting in Chicago in July, so I picked that to try out. This is what the travel costs look like on American Airlines to Chicago O'Hare (ORD) from the airports I might reasonably use:


On top of the extra cost, I'd have to come home two hours later because there are fewer flights, and none around the time I can get with the other airports. I picked American Airlines because it flies non-stop to Chicago from all the area airports. From Stewart, I could also use US Airways with a stop in Philadelphia, or Northwest Airlines with a stop in Detroit; fares are a few dollars more, but still in the low $300 range. Using Stewart costs over 50% more and gives me a poorer choice of schedule.

If the Port Authority makes it an official NYC-area airport, that might change, and if fares are comparable and schedules are good I'd much rather use Stewart, as I did back when the fares were reasonable before. We'll have to see.

This would also make New York City the only area in the world with four major airports serving it — and it's already unique with three. Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta is currently the busiest airport in the country, having beat out O'Hare a while ago... but it's the only major airport in its region. New York has JFK, LGA, and EWR, and Philadelphia is only a two-hour drive away. In other areas with more than one airport, one is primary and the others are secondary. San Jose and Oakland aren't comparable to SFO, for instance, and Midway doesn't compare to ORD.

And right now, Stewart doesn't compare to the others either. But it has a lot of room to expand. Let's see what the Port Authority does with it — and when.

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