Everyone knows that New Yorkers are no strangers to the highest heights, but high-rise buildings certainly aren’t the only way we touch the skies. Always a center of innovation, New Yorkers have been able to take to the air since the 1920s, taking off from one of the city’s major airstrips as soon as commercial flight took hold.
Whether the big three of Newark, LaGuardia and JFK or one of the area’s smaller airfields, there’s a jetload of interesting backstory to all of the area’s major hubs. Here’s some amazing history of just how these places came to be.
Newark Liberty International Airport
As commercial air travel went from a novelty to a necessity, NYC needed an air hub suited to the needs of a global metropolis. That opportunity presented itself not in Manhattan, but across the river in Newark, New Jersey, where the necessary space was available for building a proper airport. Opened in 1928, Newark Metropolitan Airport was the busiest airport in the nation for the first decade of its existence, seeing 61 daily departures on five different airlines. Like many airfields nationwide, Newark was drafted into service during World War II, closing to commercial operation while the US Army used the land for logistics operations. Soon after the conflict ended, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over the airport, and have operated it ever since.
Floyd Bennett Field
The same year as Newark Airport opened, a now-lesser known airfield was established at the southern end of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn’s Marine Park neighborhood. NYC’s first municipal airport (smaller airfields existed before, but none were as favorably sited and well-constructed). Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1928, and by 1933 it saw more than twice as many planes come and go than Newark’s airport. In fact, Floyd Bennett Field was the nation’s second-busiest airport behind Oakland international in California. After serving as a military air station during World War II, the airfield fell out of use, thanks to LaGuardia’s proximity to Manhattan which made it more enticing to both commercial and private air carriers. Today, the site hosts the aptly named Aviator Sports complex, home of hockey rinks and multipurpose sports fields to serve Brooklyn and the Rockaways.
The city’s first commercial airport opened not too long after Newark’s, and Queens has been the taking-off (and landing!) point for countless NYC dreams ever since. Dedicated in 1939 as New York Municipal Airport, it was officially renamed for former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1947. LaGuardia Airport was built out of the existing North Beach Airport, a tiny airstrip converted to a major American destination. Upon its opening, New Yorkers were so entranced by the planes that many paid the 10 cent entrance fee without a flight booked, simply to watch them land and take off for hours at a time. Today, LaGuardia is in the midst of a major renovation project that will turn the admittedly-neglected airport into an ultramodern terminal with more efficient connection to mass transit and the surrounding area, making New Yorkers better connected to the rest of the country than ever before.
John F. Kennedy International Airport
NYC’s major international airport opened in 1943 to alleviate overcrowding at LaGuardia. The sprawling, massive new airport was officially named New York International Airport, Anderson Field but was commonly known as Idlewild Airport, after a golf course that was previously on the site. It was known that way until 1963 when it was renamed after the recently slain president Kennedy. Soon after the name change, the airport had all eyes on it worldwide thanks to its status as the landing place of the Beatles in February 1964. Their grand American debut was marked by thousands of adoring fans and eager press greeting them on the runways adjacent to Jamaica Bay in Queens. JFK was also a 60s landmark thanks to the iconic neo-futurist TWA Flight Center, currently remodeled and back in use after its initial closure in 2001. After seeing nearly 60 million passengers in 2017, JFK is poised to continue on as the center of NYC’s flying culture, ensuring the city that never sleeps will never lack for new faces.