October 1, 2003

Happy Birthday Newark Airport.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 11:24 pm

Newark Airport, recently renamed “Newark Liberty International Airport,” (although it will always be “Newark Airport” to the locals) is seventy-five years old today. When it opened on October 1, 1928 on a piece of swampy marshland at the behest of the City of Newark, it was called “Newark Municipal Airport.”

When it opened, the airport was primarily used for transporting mail. In addition to transporting New Jersey’s airmail, it also handled mail that was trucked in from Manhattan, totaling five million pounds of mail per year by 1938. However, the then Mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, wrested the airmail business from New Jersey and brought it to the New York’s “new” airport in Queens, which is now better known as LaGuardia Airport.

Even though its primary mission was the transport of mail, soon after it opened the airport became the worlds busiest. It served 90,000 passengers in 1931 and by 1938, 350,000 travelers passed through it’s passenger terminal, which had been built in 1935. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the U.S. Army Air Corps, and in 1948 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over its control, and it has remained in control of the airport until today.

Newark Airport is known for having some famous “firsts,” such as the first air control tower, the first paved runways, and the first passenger terminal. The original passenger terminal and control tower now house administrative offices.

Unfortunately, it also has the dubious distinction of being the departure point for flight 93 destined for San Francisco on September 11, 2001 (a flight I had taken many times before September 11th), which ultimately crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania.

Passenger traffic peaked in 2000, with 34.2 million travelers, but since September 11th, the number of passengers has decreased. Last year 29.2 million travelers passed through the airport.

When I was a young boy, it was not uncommon for my parents to take me on Sunday drives to the airport just to watch the planes come and go. Today, with air travel being so commonplace, a Sunday outing to the airport must seem silly, if not downright crazy. However, back then (in the early fifties) it made for an exciting day, and it didn’t cost anything. The entire airport consisted of only the single original terminal, and visitors could walk out on the roof of the building (known as the “observation deck”) to watch the noisy propeller-driven planes pick up and discharge their passengers directly on the tarmac fifty feet from the observation deck.

The observation deck was always well populated not only with curious visitors, but also with people who were there either to see their friends and family off (and no one would leave until the plane was actually airborne) or those who were picking up family and friends, who would wave at those of us on the observation deck as they exited the plane. It was a small, personal, and friendly place – nothing like today.

The airport has grown and changed a great deal since then, but then again, so have I

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