MIAMI — As the airline industry continues its steady march of mergers and acquisitions, many airlines have come and gone. The State of New York has been the home of many airlines in recent history which have either been gobbled up by a larger airline, or simply vanished into obscurity.
New York Air
The first airline we take a look at was simply named New York Air. First appearing at its hub of LaGuardia in 1980 as only the second post-deregulation era airline, New York Air (NYA) struggled to commence operations due to a poor economy. In addition to the economy, an air traffic controllers strike and difficulty acquiring landing rights slowed their start.
On December19th, 1980, NYA was cleared for takeoff, operating a shuttle-like service from LaGuardia to Boston and Washington. Over the following years, the airline would eventually serve 24 destinations in 13 states with a fleet of 34 aircraft. NYA operated the Douglas DC-9-31/32, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, and eventually the Boeing 737-300. The airline’s livery reflected its namesake and home town with an apple on the tail, as one of New York’s many nicknames is The Big Apple.
NYA featured a “Flying Nosh” service, which was a bag filled with bagels, cream cheese, napkins and a knife. It may actually be the most classic New York thing that has ever existed in the air. Not exactly your typical peanuts and cup of soda.
In 1987, NYA parent company Texas Air Corporation (yes, really, Texas) rolled several of its airlines into Continental Airlines. NYA operations were moved Hudson River to Newark and absorbed into Continental mainline operations.
People Express Airlines
Likewise, People Express was also owned by Texas Air Corporation, starting up just one year after New York Air. People Express, however, was a totally different beast. The airline really echoed the service offered by New York Air out of its home base of Newark. While New York Air never expanded beyond regional operations, People Express set its sights on something bigger.
In 1983, the carrier leased a Boeing 747-200 from Braniff International Airways and initiated international service to London’s Gatwick Airport with fares as low as $149 each way. People Express later added additional international service to Brussels and Montréal. Over time, 3 747-100’s from Alitalia entered the fleet, in addition to 6 747-200’s.
Speaking of those low fares, People Express had a unique fare and payment structure. Most flights on any given route were priced equally, save for a few “off-peak” flights with lower fares. The real distinction from other airlines was that the fare was actually paid on board the aircraft at the beginning of the flight. It was also the first airline to charge for a checked bag in the United States, at a whopping $3 each.
Over time, People Express bit off more than it could chew after acquiring Frontier Airlines, and became extremely unprofitable. The airline ceased operations in early 1987, and just like with New York Air, People Express ended up as a part of Continental Airlines.
Initially a charter airline with its roots dating back to 1946, Capitol Air started scheduled service out of New York’s JFK Airport after deregulation in 1978. The airline also maintained hubs in Brussels, Belgium and San Juan, Puerto Rico with service to cities such as Los Angeles, Paris, France, and Frankfurt, Germany.
Capitol began operations with the DC-3, later progressing to the DC-8, DC-10, and eventually a single Airbus A300. Although Capitol Air maintained scheduled airline service, the airline still relied heavily on its charter business to pay the bills. The carrier provided charter service to the United States military on a regular basis.
In 1983, Capitol Air flight 236, a DC-8 from San Juan to Chicago with a stop in Miami was hijacked twice in two weeks. During the first hijacking, a man locked himself in the lavatory and demanded to be taken to Cuba. The following week, a flight was hijacked by a woman armed with a flare gun. No passengers were harmed in either hijacking.
Capitol Air declared bankruptcy in 1984 after acquiring large amounts of debt it could not recover from. Many of Capitol’s aircraft were transferred to Arrow Air.
New York Airways
While New York’s airports may be fairly close to Manhattan, actually getting to and from the airport usually means a relentless onslaught of traffic. New York Airways looked to solve the traffic issue by simply flying over it. NYA was one of the very first scheduled helicopter airline to carry passengers in the United States, based at LaGuardia Airport.
NYA started service in 1953 with the Sikorsky S-55, which was a converted military helicopter. NYA offered service throughout the metro area, including all three major airports. NYA hired the first African American pilot in the United States. Perry H. Young Jr’s first flight was in 1957, a short hop between LaGuardia and Idlewild airports.
Most famously, NYA offered service to Midtown Manhattan by landing on top of the Pan Am Building. Pan Am passengers with a flight out of JFK could board a helicopter with just 40 minutes to spare before their flight thanks to the quick ten minute hop.
In 1977, the landing gear failed on a Sikorsky S-61L as it was landing on the top of the Pan Am Building, killing four passengers and an additional bystander at ground level. The crash would lead to the eventual closing of the Pan Am heliport.
With rising fuel costs and a string of deadly accidents, New York Airways touched down for the last time in May of 1979.
Kiwi International Airlines
In 1992, another little airline sprouted up in New York City using a few second hand aircraft offering service throughout the east coast. Kiwi International Airlines, however, actually seemed to be a diamond in the rough. With a pair of Boeing 727s, Kiwi started service from Newark to Orlando and Chicago with a roomy 36″ seat pitch.
In fact, the service on board Kiwi was so superior to the competition that it won Best Airline in America from Condé Nast Traveler, best startup airline by Consumer Reports, and was a codeshare partner with Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlatnic.
After the crash of ValuJet Flight 592, the low cost airline industry was under extreme scrutiny, and its financials became to unwind. Kiwi filed for bankruptcy on September 30, 1996, and eventually ceased operations the following month.
Tower Air was a bit of an odd airline. Operations started in 1983 with the Boeing 747 out of its JFK based hub. The only airline to provide passenger service outside of the central terminal area, Tower Air operated out of more closely resembled a hangar with jet bridges than a terminal.
Initial routes took passengers to Brussels and Tel Aviv, but service later expanded to include France, Greece and Brazil, and eventually domestic flights. While domestic service from New York to Miami and Los Angeles on a Boeing 747 may sound luxurious, it was anything but.
Tower Air was consistently rated one of the worst airlines in the world, above only Valujet and Aeroflot. Its fleet of aircraft was falling apart, and this made the FAA take notice. In 1998, the FAA attempted to remove Tower Air’s chairman and CEO from the airline, while the Department of Defense suspended its contract with Tower Air in 1999.
In February of 2000, Tower Air filed for bankruptcy protection and ceased service May 1, 2000.