The Chamber of Commerce of New York

Building the City > A Proper Airport

It hardly needed saying that the plans for New York’s welcome to Charles Lindbergh called for a reception to overshadow anything yet seen. The pilot and his airplane would parade from the Battery to Central Park, along an illuminated “golden way,” cheered by millions. But, there were some obstacles to overcome. His plane, with a wingspan of forty-six feet, was too wide to navigate some of the tighter intersections downtown. Local aviators had to be dissuaded from flying low over the streets to welcome their hero. A venue had to be found to accommodate the thousands of dignitaries who wanted to here him speak.

But, the biggest hurdle of all was the embarrassing realization that New York City did not possess an adequate airport. Instead, on June 13, 1927, Lindbergh was forced to fly an army plane – The Spirit of St. Louis had a valve problem – to Mitchel Field, on Long Island. There, he transferred to a seaplane for a short flight down to the Lower Bay near Staten Island. He took a barge up the harbor to the Battery, where he disembarked at 1:37 p.m., to be greeted by a crowd “packed as solidly as humanity can be packed.”

The next afternoon, addressing the members of the Chamber of Commerce at the largest luncheon it ever hosted, this lack of infrastructure was foremost in his mind. “New York,” said Lindy, “has not a proper airport for a city of its size. The greatest city in the world has not an airport to correspond with some of the smaller ones in Europe. I feel sure that that fact will be remedied in a short time.”

It wouldn’t. But not for lack of effort on the Chamber’s part.

Just months after Lindbergh’s reception, the members debated the advantages of locating the city’s airport on Governor’s Island or near Jamaica Bay, in Queens. The Chamber recommended the latter, which soon became Floyd Bennett Field.

A year later, the Chamber created an Aviation Committee, which reported – in 1930 – that serious improvement was still required. “The business supremacy of the Port of New York,” the memo argued, “is derived mainly from the possession of noble ocean harbors, a navigable river, and splendid railroad facilities … a slow but inevitable decline faces the city of New York if it should fail to meet the requirements of air transportation.”

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