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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: A Look Back at New York Air

Photo provided by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

New York, New York has always been a business center in the United States. This, combined with the need for businessmen to travel to nearby large cities quickly, has created shuttle service along the East Coast. These services are often frequent and provide businessmen the best option to do business. For many years, Eastern Air Shuttle dominated this market. Their near monopoly allowed them to set expensive prices with the little competition. Then, in 1980, aviation mogul Frank Lorenzo decided to challenge this near monopoly.

New York Air was born to challenge Eastern Airlines. The airline was the second airline to be formed after the deregulation of the industry; the first was Midway Airlines in Chicago. Lorenzo brought in experienced people to run his new airline. Neal Meehan was New York Air’s first president. He had previously been a senior manger for Lorenzo’s Continental Airlines and Texas International. Between September 1980 and December 1980, Meehan created the team for New York, with everything from pilots and ground staff to maintenance, and got them trained within these three months. In the middle of this, the airline interviewed thousands of applicants in one day at the Town Hall Theatre.

The airline started operations on December 19th, 1980, however, it was not without controversy. From the beginning, New York Air faced opposition from the Airline Pilots Association. The group would picket at LaGuardia and National, and run ads in New York Air’s markets. The group was also suspected of vandalism and interference of the New York Air workforce. The airline also faced struggles with the Airline Scheduling Committee, which controlled the slots at both LaGuardia and National. However, the airline was able to pull through this and inaugurate service between New York, Boston, and Washington.

Their first year and a half of operations were hindered by the PATCO Air Traffic Controller strike. The strike cut traffic almost in half due the lack of controllers available to handle the traffic into the nation’s busiest airports. But after Regan forced his hand and got the controllers back to returning to work, New York Air’s fortune began to increase.

At the same time, a new CEO was brought in to restructure the airline. Initially the new CEO reduced the airline’s capacity then, two years later, he doubled the airline’s size while maintaining profitability. The airline reached its peak in 1986 when they employed 2,000 people and had around 40 aircraft. During this time a regional brand was started called New York Air Connection which was operated by Colgan Air. However, Texas Air and Frank Lorenzo were looking to save costs, so they combined Texas International, New York Air and Continental Airlines, with the Continental Airlines name remaining. The last New York Air flight was on February 1, 1987, just seven years after service began.

New York Air attempted to challenge the major force which, at the time was Eastern Airlines. Adventurous in their attempt, they did prove successful and put a small dent into Eastern’s service. In the end it was simple consolidation that brought the “flying big apple” down, however, many aircraft and crew remained with Continental after the merger, carrying the New York Air legacy on.

Daniel Morley


  • Daniel Morley

    Daniel has always had aviation in his life; from moving to the United States when he was two, to family vacations across the U.S., and back to his native England. He currently resides in South Florida and attends Nova Southeastern University, studying Human Factors in Aviation. Daniel has his Commercial Certificate for both land and sea, and hopes to one day join the major airlines.

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