Aviation History

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One of the first major projects for the Port Authority during the postwar era was taking responsibility for the region's three largest airports—Newark, LaGuardia, and New York International. By 1948, the agency had added them to its portfolio of projects. Both the City of Newark and the City of New York had asked the Port Authority to take over the airports; New York City, in fact, had toyed with the idea of setting up a city airport authority.

But both New York and Newark came to realize that they had more than enough problems to solve without getting involved in aviation. The cities did not give away the airports; they leased them to the Port Authority. Since assuming operations of the three airports, the Port Authority has invested billions of dollars in capital improvements in each of them.

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By 1951, air-passenger miles traveled in the U.S. had begun to exceed the total number of passenger miles traveled by Pullman railroad cars. But in early 1952, Newark Airport closed for four months because of a three-airplane crash in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that killed 119 people. Many people believed that the nation's 60 airports should all be shut down until airplanes stopped inexplicably falling out of the sky. However, the New York Times supported commercial aviation in the editorial "The Airport Problem."

"It is not possible to remove landing fields to entirely uninhabited areas. To do so would destroy the very value of air transport; it is not possible. The airplane is here to stay, and Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, the World War II hero and chairman of President Harry S. Truman's Airport Commission, urged that Newark Field be allowed to reopen, saying, ‘The Newark airport has had a most unusual accumulation of bad luck.'"

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By the 1960s, the "Airport Problem" would become one of traffic control, not safety. Air travel's popularity would far outstrip anything envisioned by the air pioneers and barnstormers of the 1920s.

Today, it's hard to imagine a world without air travel and safe aviation. The Port Authority has always and will always have an instrumental place in the history of aviation.


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