The Airline History of Long Island’s Republic Airport

Republic Airport (FRG) Passenger Terminal
Republic Airport (FRG) Passenger Terminal

Most Long Islanders automatically think of La Guardia, JFK International, and Long Island MacArthur airports when it comes to fulfilling their airline travel needs. But Farmingdale-located Republic Airport fielded its own brief, albeit unsuccessful, scheduled and charter carrier service. That very location gave reason for its rise.

“The Industrial Revolution and airplane manufacture came to Farmingdale during World War I when Lawrence Sperry and Sydney Breese established their pioneering factories in the community,” according to Ken Neubeck and Leroy E. Douglas in Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale (Arcadia Publishing, 2016, p. 9). “They were drawn by the presence of two branches of the Long Island Railroad…the nearby Route 24, which brought auto and truck traffic to and from the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge in Manhattan; the level outwash plain, which provided land for flying fields; and the proximity to skilled workers…”  

In 1966, a year after ownership of Republic Airport was transferred from Fairchild Hiller to Farmingdale Corporation, it was officially designated a general aviation (civil) facility, fielding its first landing, of a twin-engine Beechcraft operated by Ramey Air Service from Islip, on December 7. In order to transform it into a gateway by facilitating airline connections at the three major New York airports, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracted with Air Spur to provide this feeder service four years later. It assessed $12 one-way fares.

Although Republic was never envisioned as a major commercial airport, its central Long island location, proximity to the Route 110 corridor, and considerable infrastructure poised it for limited, scheduled and charter service to key business and leisure destinations within neighboring states. Yet its inherent operational limitation was succinctly stated in the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update.

“At Republic Airport,” it explained (Chapter 3, p. 8), “the New York State Department of Transportation implemented an aircraft weight limitation of 60,000 pounds in 1984. This weight limitation restricts the operation of aircraft over 60,000 pounds actual gross weight without the written consent of the airport operator.”

It also cited examples of some of these high-weight types.

“In the range of aircraft using Republic Airport,” it pointed out (Chapter 3, p. 8), “the (then-designated) Gulfstream G-IV (design group D-II), Gulfstream G-II (design group D-II), Gulfstream G-III (design group C-II), and the Canadair CL-600 (design group C-II) are the most demanding on the airfield.”

Indeed, the business jet category was foreseen as recording the greatest amount of growth.

“Forecasts indicate that there will be an increase in the number of jet aircraft based at Republic Airport,” the Master Plan Update stated, “as well as an increase in jet operations,” as ultimately proven by annual pure-jet operation statistics: 2,792 in fiscal year 1986, 4,056 in 1990, 4,976 in 1995, and 6,916 in 1998. And, of its average annual number of based aircraft—about 500—this segment was also the fastest growing: 10 jet aircraft in 1985, 15 in 1995, and 20 in 1998. That number has since more than doubled.

Yet the airport, with 5,516- and 6,833-foot runways, had commercial potential.

Cosmopolitan Airlines Convair 440
Cosmopolitan Airlines Convair 440

One of the first scheduled airline attempts was made in 1978 when Cosmopolitan Airlines, operating an ex-Finnair Convair CV-340 and two ex-Swissair CV-440 Metropolitans in single-class, four-abreast, configurations, offered all-inclusive, single-day, scheduled charter packages to Atlantic City from its Cosmopolitan Sky Center. Its flyer had advised: “Fly to Atlantic City for only $19.95 net. Here’s how it works: Pay $44.95 for a round-trip flight ticket to Atlantic City, including ground transportation to and from the Claridge Hotel and Casino. Upon arrival at the Claridge, you’ll receive $20.00 in food and beverage credits good at any restaurant except the London Pavilion. You will also receive a $5.00 flight credit good for your next fight to the Claridge on Cosmopolitan Airlines.”

Its 1983 schedule for the 36-minute flight to Atlantic City’s no-longer existent Bader Field included daily round-trip flights.

Hand-written paper tickets, issued to each passenger and listing the routing as “FRG-ACY-FRG,” stated: “Flight coupon valid only on the Cosmopolitan flight listed on the unshaded portion hereof.”

Same-day returns provided some nine hours in Atlantic City. Although its flights were popular, they hardly generated a profit and, despite its discontinued operations at the end of 1983, it had been in the process of expanding its public charter service to Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, in addition to its originally scheduled flight from Republic Airport to Boston.

Atlantic City, the airport’s primary charter destination, attracted several other, similar operators, offering mostly single-day junkets.

Republic-based Long Island Airlines, for instance—flying de Havilland of Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters—catered to high rollers; Manny Constantine, long associated with Atlantic City packages, served Merv Griffin’s Resort, and six weekly flights with British Aerospace BAe-31 Jetstreams took passengers to Harrah’s Casino Resort; Trump’s Castle Shuttle, operating 13-passenger Beechcraft B200 high-density commuter King Airs and 19-passenger Beech B1900Cs to Pomona International Airport, offered nine weekly round-trips, departing as early as 10:30 and as late as 17:00, depending upon the day and charging $69.00 for the service. The price included the air transportation from the Republic Airport Terminal, round-trip transfers, $10.00 in coin vouchers, and use of a hospitality day room in the hotel. The schedule included three departures on Fridays and two on Saturdays.  

Mimicking Cosmopolitan, several airlines equally attempted to gain scheduled toeholds in Farmingdale.

Atlantic Express, for instance, established the otherwise general aviation airport as an operational base, indicating its importance by including an outline of Long Island in its April 18, 1983 timetable and its four aerial gateways: La Guardia, JFK, and Long Island MacArthur were indicated by a dot. Republic was marked with a heart. Operating a fleet of 19-seat Fairchild Swearingen Metro SA-227 IIIs, it offered up to four weekday nonstops to Albany, which continued to Syracuse, and five to Boston, two of which were routed to Presque Isle, thus serving the three northeastern states of New York, Massachusetts, and Maine.

A joint promotion with Budget Rent-a-Car pointed out, “You get more than just a car at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island. Atlantic Express flies you between Republic Airport and Boston, Albany, and Syracuse…This convenient airport and airline service extends on the ground to dependable, fast, friendly car rental service.”

The carrier was later renamed Mid-Atlantic Express. Facilitating this scheduled service growth was the construction of a passenger terminal.

“The terminal building, completed in 1983, has approximately 50,000 square feet of useable floor space and houses airport service vehicles, maintenance, fire protection, public terminal space, and rental areas on the first floor, plus administration offices on the second floor,” according to the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update (Chapter 1, p. 17).

PBA Provincetown Boston Airlines Embraer EMB-110
PBA Provincetown Boston Airlines Embraer EMB-110

Attempting to establish a link between Farmingdale and the major New York metropolitan airport of Newark International in order to feed its departures, PBA Provincetown Boston Airline commenced shuttle service with Cessna C-402 commuter aircraft, connecting Long Island by means of a 30-minute aerial hop with up to five daily round-trips and coordinating schedules with PEOPLExpress Airlines. It stressed its convenience in advertisements—namely, avoidance of the excessive drive-times, parking costs, and longer check-in requirements otherwise associated with larger-airport usage, and it offered through-fares, ticketing, and baggage check to any PEOPLExpress final destination. 

According to its June 20, 1986 Northern System timetable, it offered Farmingdale departures at 07:00, 09:50, 12:00, 14:45, and 17:55.

Demand soon necessitated replacement of the C-402 with a larger, 19-seat Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante.

When Continental acquired PEOPLExpress, PBA provided the same feed to its route system through Newark.

Northwest Airlink Saab 340
Northwest Airlink Saab 340

Emulating Cosmopolitan’s and Atlantic Express’s scheduled service attempts, Precision Airlines, operating 19-passenger Dornier Do-228-200 regional turboprops and branded “Northwest Airlink,” inaugurated service to Boston and Albany in May of 1993, adding is own brief chapter to Republic Airport’s scheduled airline service book. Unable to attract sufficient passengers in order to render the operation economically viable, however, it quickly followed those which had preceded it after a five-month trial, leaving its red sign above the check-in counters as the only evidence that it had ever existed.

Balancing its casino coverage, Charter Air Transport and Empire Aviation also operated flights to the Mohegan Sun Hotel in Uncasville, Connecticut, but these were discontinued in June of 2009. 

All of this flight activity, needless to say, resulted in annual passenger total increases—from 13,748 in 1985 and 30,564 in 1990 to 33,854 in 1995.

These brief, unsuccessful scheduled attempts, nullifying local residents’ ill-founded concern that Republic would ultimately develop into a major commercial airport and inflict its noise on close-proximity ears, failed to attract the needed traffic to render them self-supporting, emphasizing several airport-specific factors.

  • Republic was consistently associated with general, and not scheduled, operations during the latter part of its history.
  • Long Island MacArthur had already established itself as the island’s principle commercial facility, and carriers, as demonstrated by Precision/Northwest Airlink, gained no revenue advantage by diluting the same market, yet incurring increased airport and operational costs to do so. 

Nevertheless, the airfield’s last scheduled venture entailed the transport not of people, but of animals. Nebraska-based Suburban Air Freight, operating a fleet of kennel-provisioned Beech 1900Cs as Pet Airways and located in the Nassau Flyers terminal, inaugurated service on July 14, 2009, eventually spreading its wings to Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Omaha, and Phoenix. After check-in, its “passengers” awaited departure in a pet lounge, receiving a pre-boarding walk and a 15-minute-intervaled in-flight visit by an attendant who is to be forgiven for occasionally slipping and asking, “Coffee or tea?” Its slogan toted, “Travel for your best friend.”

“Republic Airport has had service by various commuter airlines and each has ceased operation…,” according to the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update. “The commuter service market area is limited, geographically, taking into account the larger airports, such as La Guardia, Kennedy, and MacArthur and the service they offer.”

“Since 1969, Republic Airport has accommodated the region’s need for an airport devoted to private and business aircraft, as well as charter and commuter operations,” it also stated (Chapter 1, p. 1). “Because Republic is situated in the midst of residential, commercial, and industrial development, its role is inconsistent with that of a scheduled air carrier airport for commercial jet transport.”

Robert G. Waldvogel has spent thirty years working at JFK International and LaGuardia airports with the likes of Capitol Air, Midway Airlines, Triangle Aviation Services, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa in Ground Operations and Management. He has created and taught aviation programs on both the airline and university level, and is an aviation author.

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