Stewart Airport, an abandoned Air Force base 60 miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan, is being transformed into a fourth airport for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York’s airport operator. These second tier airports are becoming a big trend in air travel according to the Wall St Journal today.

“Unable to build additional runways at La Guardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports, the Port Authority paid $78.5 million to buy a 93-year lease on Stewart and pledged to invest $500 million more to turn it into a bustling hub. The state of New York just completed construction of a new access road and is working on making interstate highways connect more easily to the airport. And the Port Authority has already built a 400-spot parking lot.

The plan starts with making Stewart a discounter destination for New York, much as London developed Stansted Airport and Luton Airport as bases for discounters so they didn’t clog Gatwick and Heathrow. Already, Skybus Airlines Inc., a bare-bones operation based in Columbus, Ohio, flies to Columbus and Greensboro, N.C., from Stewart. AirTran Airways Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., along with regional partners of Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp. and US Airways Group Inc., fly to Stewart. And Port Authority officials recently went to Europe to entice discount operators there to use Stewart for trans-Atlantic flights.

“We have to get people to change habits and one way to do that is with price,” said Diannae Ehler, the Port Authority’s general manager at Stewart.

Easing congestion in the New York area would improve air-traffic flow nationwide. New York was responsible for a majority of all delayed flights last year —- delays that cascade through the nation’s air-travel system and create havoc for millions of travelers. So extreme were the problems last year that the federal government is imposing new restrictions on the number of flights at Kennedy and Newark (restrictions already exist at La Guardia).

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