September 29, 2008

‘Long Haul’ at Stewart Begins Turbulently

By Kahn, Kathy

Like most businesses, Stewart international Airport is facing some tough economic times. Losing two of its low-cost carriers - Air Tran and Skybus - and learning both JetBlue and Delta will be scaling back flights has made life difficult, but not impossible; for the public agency landlord, the Port Authority.

In an effort to make Stewart more Attractive to carriers, the PA is going to waive gate and landing fees. The temporary measure is worth nearly $1 million to airlines who are considering making Stewart a stop on their, itineraries.

While initially predicting that more than 1 million people would fly out of its newest acquisition, the PA has lowered its forecast of Stewart travelers to approximately 725,000 for this year.

The airport had just 310,000 passengers in 2006. Last year, when both Air Tran and JetBlue made their debuts, passenger numbers tripled to over 900,000.

"Building Stewart into a strong regional airport isn't going to happen overnight," acknowledged Diannae Ehler, the airport's general manager. When the PA took over Stewart in November, parking lots were overflowing and the lines were out the door. These days, the parking lots, including the ones the PA installed to accommodate the holiday crowds at the end of 2007, are quiet.

Ehler said airlines are feeling the pinch just like every other industry, but reassured members at a recent. meeting of the Stewart Airport Commission, "The PA is here for the long haul. We have 93 years left on our lease. Idewild Golf Course is now JFK International Airport, and that didn't happen overnight."

While he's not from the Hudson Valley anymore, the state Senate confirmed the appointment of Fred Hochberg as a new PA commissioner. Dean of Manhattan's The New School for , Management and Urban Policy, Hochberg was a member of the Clinton administration and former CEO of Lillian Vernon in Westchester County, taking it from a small mail-order business to a nationwide chain before taking the position with The New School. The Stewart Airport Commission has repeatedly asked for a member of the Hudson Valley to sit on the PA's 12-member board since the Port took over in November 2007.

Despite the dreary economic outlook, Stewart is not only, on track with its $500 million 10-year capital plan, but received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace power and communication cables in mid-August.

Copyright Westfair Communications Sep 1, 2008

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