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TARRYTOWN, NY-An executive with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, speaking at a meeting of two regional construction groups, said on Tuesday night that the authority is aggressively pursuing a study to divert some air traffic from its airports in the New York metro area to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh. While there are many hurdles to overcome before a deal might be reached, Stewart appears to be the only logical facility to handle projected increases in air traffic in the New York metro region that have all but maxed out capacity at the Port Authority’s existing airports (LaGuardia, JFK, Newark and Teterboro) in New York and New Jersey.

Luis Rodriguez, assistant director of New York Affairs Government & Community Relations for the Port Authority reported that the authority’s Board of Commissioners on Nov. 16 authorized its executive director Kenneth Ringler to review Stewart International Airport as an opportunity to expand regional air capacity.

Rodriguez, who was the keynote speaker at the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley Inc.’s and Building Contractors Association’s Annual Fall Membership Meeting & Dinner on Nov. 20, said the study of just what role the Port Authority might play at Stewart Airport has just begun.

“Right now what we are looking at is what is the feasibility of the Port Authority’s involvement as far as not only shifting the capacity at Stewart airfield, but can we legally acquire the airport? I don’t know,” he said. “Our law department is diligently working on those issues. The only thing I can tell you with 100% certainty is that we do need to alleviate the congestion right now and Stewart Airport is a good alternative.”

He related that air passenger capacity is projected to grow at its airport facilities. Rodriguez said that its four airports are projected to serve 125 million passengers by 2015 and 150 million passengers by 2025. In August, the Port Authority reported that JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports have posted a record-setting year for air passengers for the first six months of 2006. The airports served a combined 50.6 million passengers in the first half of 2006.

“Right now the New York metropolitan area airspace is the most congested in the world,” Rodriguez said. “There is a problem… . Based on our projections the status quo will not be able to handle the volume that we anticipate over the next few years. This initiative at Stewart Airport will allow the Port Authority to look into shifting some of the capacity from the existing airspace to a different airspace because Stewart airspace does not affect the four airports in the metropolitan area.”

Rodriguez, who noted that Stewart Airport has two major runways and is about the size of Newark International Airport, is underutilized as compared to PA facilities. At Stewart, the average annual passenger load is about 500,000. Newark Airport currently serves approximately 30 million air passengers per year.

When asked the time frame of when the study of Stewart might be completed and when a possible deal might be reached, Rodriguez said that the authority was “aggressively” pursuing the study but would want to keep the incoming administration of Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer advised on its plans at Stewart.

The opportunity at Stewart has come about because the current operator of the facility, National Express Group PLC, is looking to sell its lease with the owner of the airport, the New York State Department of Transportation. New York Governor George Pataki privatized Stewart Airport and signed a lease deal with National Express in 2000. Now, only six years into its lease, the firm is looking to get out of the airline business entirely.

National Express officials said the firm expects to make a selection in the near term, and complete the transaction by year’s-end.

Just how the deal might be structured is in question. Rodriguez said one considerable hurdle will be that under current law the authority has jurisdiction within a 25-mile radius of the Statute of Liberty. Stewart International Airport is more than 50 miles from the landmark. He noted that the authority would probably need enabling federal legislation to carry out a deal at Stewart.

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