Empire Airlines was founded in the 1975 as Oneida County Aviation, a small carrier based in Utica, NY.
After the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, the airline saw potential to grow a hub operation at larger nearby Syracuse using a fleet of 80-seat Fokker F28 Fellowship twin jets and smaller 19-seat Swearingen Metro II propjets.
Empire acquired additional F28s from Philadelphia-based Altair Airlines after that airline shut down in 1982. In addition to hub flights at Syracuse, Empire offered direct flights from other medium-sized Mid-Atlantic cities like Rochester and Buffalo to major business centers like New York and Boston.
Empire’s success attracted the attention of Piedmont Airlines, a pre-deregulation “local service carrier” based in North Carolina. After deregulation, Piedmont expanded into the Northeast, starting with a hub opened at Baltimore–Washington International Airport in about 1982. Piedmont bought Empire in 1985 and merged them into that company.
Oneida County History Center will host Jim Coulthart, a local amateur military aviation historian, who will present “The Story of Empire Airlines 1976 – 1985” on Saturday, October 21 at 2 pm.
This program tells the story of Oneida County-based airline Empire Airlines and highlights the life of founder Paul Quackenbush and other people associated with the airline’s success.
Coulthart will also share information discovered in historical newspapers and documents and reveal tales from interviews provided by retired and former employees.
This is a follow-up lecture on another Oneida-County-based business, Mohawk Airlines. Both of these airlines operated out of the former Oneida County Airport located in Whitestown.
This event is free for History Center members, $5 suggested admission for non-members.
The Oneida County History Center is located at 1608 Genesee Street in Utica. For more information call (315) 735-3642, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit oneidacountyhistory.org.
Read more stories about aviation history in New York State.
Photos, from above: A portion of the fleet of jets operated by Empire Airlines at the Syracuse Airport; and the first class of flight attendants for Empire Airlines.