Originally founded in 1949 as a mail and cargo carrier at LaGuardia Airport, New York Airways later converted to carrying passengers around New York City, making it the very first helicopter airline in the United States, according to an article by The Atlantic Cities. It was initially well-received by the public because it allowed passengers to bypass New York’s notoriously congested streets without having to take the equally-frustrating subway, and allowed quick transfers between airports. A trip from LaGuardia to JFK Airport (known then as Idlewild Airport), took 10 minutes and cost $4.50. Imagine being able to skip the Belt Parkway so quickly today?
It also provided a cheaper alternative to riding taxis, making it a popular way to travel in and around the city. At its peak, it provided services in twenty-four airports, including JFK Airport (whose famous Worldport Terminal has recently been demolished).
Despite the popularity of its services and its forward thinking policies (it hired the first African American pilot), New York Airways had difficulties keeping up with rising fuel costs and a host of mechanical problems. It ceased to run after a series of crashes, caused by faulty gear, killed a total of fourteen people and injured another fifteen. The most notorious accident occurred atop the Pan Am building in 1979, and a month after, the airline filed for bankruptcy. In 1983 however, the helicopter manufacturer, Sikorsky, was found liable and paid $6 million in damages allowing New York Airways to pay back its debts.
LaGuardia Airport is also the site of many other firsts, including the oldest active airport terminal from the first generation of passenger air travel and where Clipper flights used to land by sea.