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KELLY'S KORNER: Mohawk Airlines was ahead of its time

Joe Kelly
Sentinel columnist
Posted 1/22/23

First at the Oneida County Airport - when it was in Oriskany - was Robinson Airlines. Although I am not old enough to remember Robinson, I do remember standing outside the chainlink fence.

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KELLY'S KORNER: Mohawk Airlines was ahead of its time

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First at the Oneida County Airport - when it was in Oriskany - was Robinson Airlines.

Although I am not old enough to remember Robinson, I do remember standing outside the chainlink fence at the airport to watch the airliners landing and taking off. Those airplanes belonged to Mohawk Airlines, the successor to Robinson.

What brings this up today is something that happened yesterday. I was speaking to a couple who had never heard of Robinson or Mohawk and didn’t even know there once was a bustling airport in Oriskany, complete with Mohawk’s reservation center, maintenance facility, training center and administrative offices. 

The runways were long, and passenger parking was ample, free and a short walk from the terminal building. Flying in those days was easy and without stress.

I was surprised the couple had never heard of Mohawk, but then I took into consideration their age. They hadn’t been born when Mohawk was flying high - literally and figuratively.  

Anyway, Mohawk was an airline way ahead of its time, and a major employer in Oneida County. 

Mohawk took advantage and bought surplus World War II DC-3s at a cheap price, expanded its passenger service and grew fast.

In 1958, with the completion of its new $3 million headquarters at the Oneida County Airport in Oriskany, equal to more than $30 million today, Mohawk coined the term “regional” to describe its role, a term that would later be adopted by other airlines and is still used today.

By the early 1960s, Mohawk, under the leadership of company President Robert Peach, a pilot and a hard charging businessman, was using the Oneida County Airport as the site of its computerized reservations center. Mohawk was the first U.S. airline to centralize its reservation system and the first regional carrier to use computers to support its reservation agents.

Speaking of firsts, Mohawk was the first regional airline to purchase flight simulators. The company installed the simulators in the $4 million Edwin A. Link Training Center, located just yards away from the Oneida County Airport passenger terminal. 

Another first: Mohawk was the first regional airline to enter the jet age. This came in the mid-1960s when Mohawk purchased BAC 1-11 jets in England. By 1969, Mohawk had one of the largest jet fleets among the regional carriers.  

There had to be a place to house all the Mohawk pilots and stewardesses, as flight attendants were then called, and passengers using the Oneida County Airport. All this airport traffic gave rise to the Horizon Hotel, built across the road from the Link Training Center.

By the end of 1969, Mohawk had retired the last of its piston aircraft, including Convair 440s, and was flying 20 BAC 1-11 jets and 17 FH-227 turboprop aircraft. The transition to an all-turbine fleet required an investment by Mohawk of more than $53 million, which up to that point was the largest ever undertaken by a regional carrier, and today would be worth more than $416 million.

Mohawk used those airplanes to cover 5,000 route miles in 10 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada.  

In 1971, Mohawk Airlines merged into USAir, later USAirways, and eventually that airline became part of today’s American Airlines. 

That’s some of what I know about Mohawk Airlines.

One final thought. I’ve been fortunate to have flown on many airlines over the years, but the best and the most fun was Mohawk Airlines. 

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