Authority lands at Newburgh

NEWBURGH, N.Y. - Stewart International Airport was taken over yesterday by Port Authority officials, who promised to remake the underutilized Hudson Valley airport into a bustling hub for New York City-area travelers.

The three major New York City area airports - Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty - are struggling with maximum capacity and chronic flight delays. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials hope that Stewart, about 60 miles north of New York City, will relieve the pressure by luring passengers from the city's northern suburbs and northern New Jersey.

"The Port Authority has the resources and expertise to help Stewart Airport realize its potential as a major transportation hub for this vastly expanding region," said Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The authority in January agreed to spend $78.5 million to assume a private company's lease to operate the former U.S. Air Force base through 2099.

Authority officials believe Stewart could handle 1.5 million passengers annually, up from about 300,000 last year. That would put a small dent in business for the other three big airports, which handled 103 million passengers last year, but officials say it will ease the pressure.

New York officials have been promising a bright future for Stewart since Gov. Nelson Rockefeller announced plans in 1970 to make a "great new airport at Stewart" after the Air Force deactivated its base there. But it has remained under the radar of many travelers.

In announcing Stewart's newest chapter, authority executive director Anthony Shorris stressed that "we know how to make airports work" and promised to make Stewart grow along with the steadily suburbanizing Hudson Valley.

To underline the point, officials announced that privately held, low-cost airline Skybus would provide service from Columbus, Ohio, and Greensboro, N.C., in early 2008. Authority officials said they are talking with other carriers about Stewart, which currently handles flights by AirTran, Delta Connection, JetBlue, Northwest Airlines and US Airways Express.

The airport is owned by the state Department of Transportation and had been leased by National Express Corp., which announced last year it was interested in giving up that lease.