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The History of Newark Liberty International Airport

Newark Metropolitan Airport, as it was originally named, had opened its gates to passengers back in 1928, on 68 acres of reclaimed land. It was the first, and for more than a decade the only airport serving the New York City metropolitan area. The administration building designed in the art deco style had been finished in 1934 and dedicated to Amelia Earhart a year later. It has been later repurposed as a museum. The building served as the airport’s first ever terminal, until the opening of the North Terminal in 1953. Until the opening of LaGuardia Airport in 1939, it had been the world’s busiest commercial airport. However, only a few years later all commercial traffic stopped.

During World War II, the airport had been taken over by the United States Army, mainly to conduct logistics operations. Shutting down Newark led to the recently opened LaGuardia Airport to gain even more popularity among commercial passengers over the years. The airport was brough back into commercial service shortly after the World War II ended. Its first post-war commercial flight occurred in February 1946. In 1948, the city of Newark (which owns the airport up until today) leased the airport to be operated by the Port of New York Authority (nowadays called the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) which still manages the operations at the airport.

Up until the early 1970s, the airport still had a single terminal building located on the north side of the property. During the 1970s, it also changed its name to Newark International Airport. Terminals A and B, which are still present nowadays, had been opened in 1973. During the same year, the main building for Terminal C was completed; however, the outer satellite terminal structures (where airline gates are usually located) have not been completed at the time and Terminal C remained fairly closed for 15 years. It was only in June 1988 that Terminal C had become completed and fully operational. This terminal is now exclusively operated by United Airlines and its subsidiary airlines under the name United Express.

The airport’s business started growing aggressively during the 1980s. People Express started using the old North Terminal as its own terminal and corporate office in 1981. Virgin Atlantic started having scheduled international flights between London and Newark in 1984; a type of service only conducted at John F. Kennedy International Airport at the time (at least for the New York metro area). Federal Express (now FedEx) opened it second hub at Newark in 1986. However, there had been some traffic reduction later during the decade. People Express merged with Continental Airlines in 1987 which led to several years of restructuring within the new airline and a reduction in operated flights out of Newark. Ultimately, the North Terminal used solely by People Express was demolished to make room for a brand-new cargo-only facility in the 1990s. The merger between People Express and Continental did benefit Newark in the end, as the new airline began focusing its operations much more on Newark after the early years of restructuring. To this very day, these focusing efforts and positioning of Continental remain visible, as the airline became the largest operator at Newark, a legacy which United Airlines continued to hold following the United-Continental merger in 2011.

The hijacking and mid-air crashing of United Airlines Flight 93 during the September 11 attacks, while en route from Newark to San Francisco, led to changing the name of the airport, in honor of the victims that tragically died that day. In 2002, the airport name changed to Newark Liberty International Airport (IATA code EWR) and the name pays tribute both to the victims of United Flight 93 as well as the Statue of Liberty which is located just a few miles away from the airport grounds.

Further restructuring of the airport occurred in the twenty-first century. In 2002, a new modern control tower had been built and the FAA commenced its operations there in 2003. In 2014, United Airlines (being the largest airline operator) opened its own modern 132,000-square foot hangar in order to streamline the maintenance operations of its wide-body aircraft from EWR. Back in 2016, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a redevelopment plan in order to replace the existing Terminal A with a new, modern terminal (called Terminal One) to streamline its operations, due to be completed in 2022. Furthermore, the operator announced its plans to replace the old airport train monorail system by 2024. That same year, as the economic restrictions between United States and Cuba were being softened, the US Department of Transportation announced that Newark was one of the 10 cities in the country with the permission to operate commercial flights to Havana, Cuba.

Today Newark Liberty International Airport is one of the busiest and most advanced airports on the planet. According to an annual report produced by Airports Council International (ACI), Newark was the 43rd busiest airport in the world in 2019, with over 46 million annual passengers; an impressive feat considering that the New York metropolitan area is served by 3 massive airports (Newark, JFK and LaGuardia). Furthermore, it has processed more than 880 000 tons of cargo during that same year.

Busiest domestic routes are Orlando (595 000 passengers, served by United, JetBlue, Frontier and Spirit) and Fort Lauderdale in Florida (455 000 passengers, served by United, JetBlue and Spirit) as well as Atlanta, Georgia (422 000 passengers, served by Delta, United, Frontier and Spirit). When it comes to international routes, the two busiest one by far are Paris, France (1,2 million passengers, served solely by United) and London, UK (1 million passengers, served by United, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), followed by Tel Aviv, Israel (620 000 passengers, served by United and El Al). Back in 2012, United Airlines had an impressive passenger market share of 71%, followed by Delta and JetBlue with just 5%. Today, this has slightly changed; United still dominates the airport, but with only 48.82% (7.6 million passengers), followed by JetBlue with 8.29% (1.3 million passengers) and American Airlines with 7.79% (1.2 million passengers).

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