New York Airways was an airline that offered scheduled helicopter service from atop the Pan Am Building in Midtown Manhattan, New York City to other airports in the area. Founded in 1949 as a mail and cargo carrier, it commenced passenger operations on July 9, 1953, becoming the first scheduled helicopter carrier in the United States and the first passenger helicopter carrier in the world.
Its early operations used modified Sikorsky S-55 military helicopters, but advances in helicopter technology led Sikorsky and the Boeing Company to develop civilian-specific helicopters. The first passenger operations utilized the Boeing Vertol V-44, a civilian version of Piasecki H-21. Later the airline operated the Boeing Vertol 107-II Turbocopter, and finally Sikorsky S-61.
In February 1955, the one way fare from LaGuardia to Idlewild was $4.50. The ship was a Sikorsky H-19, N418A. The trip took ten minutes, and their phone number at the time was DEfender 5-6600.
New York Airways employed the first African American as an airline pilot. Perry H. Young made his historic first flight on February 5, 1957. Young had previously made history as the first African American flight instructor for the United States Army Air Corps.
At its peak, the airline partnered with 24 international and domestic airlines and served the following destinations:
Fuel prices soared after the 1973 energy crisis, however, damaging profitability. It could not recover after a 1977 accident and the 1979 energy crisis, and New York Airways filed for bankruptcy on May 18, 1979.
Currently all surviving New York Airways Boeing Vertol 107s are operated by Columbia Helicopters:
N6674D, now operating as C-CHFV in Canada, is the highest flying time helicopter in the world, having surpassed nearly 70,000 flight hours since its construction in 1962.
On October 14, 1963, New York Airways Flight 600 (a Boeing-Vertol 107 registered N6673D) crashed shortly after takeoff from Idlewild Airport (now JFK) en route to Newark via Wall Street. All three passengers and all three crew members died. The accident was blamed on a mechanical failure due to contaminated lubricants.
On May 16, 1977, a landing gear failed on a Sikorsky S-61 taking on passengers at the Pan Am building. It tipped over; its spinning rotor blades killed four passengers waiting to board (including movie director Michael Findlay) and injured a fifth, and parts of a broken blade fell into the streets below, killing one pedestrian and injuring another. The accident precipitated the closure of the heliport for good.
Published - July 2009
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