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JFK raises curtain on futuristic new terminal

A host of elected officials, JetBlue executives and the world famous Rockettes were on hand at John F. Kennedy International Airport Monday to officially unveil its newest and most anticipated terminal.

The doors to the new Terminal 5, also known as "JetPort," were opened to the public for the first time with a gala celebration that honored the terminal's history and showed off the possibilities for its future.

The $743 million, 635,000-square-foot space, which used to serve TWA airlines, now sports a futuristic design with up-to-date security features, high-end shops and restaurants and a full airline staff.

"Our new home will bring the best of the JetBlue experience from the air to the ground," said David Barger, chief executive officer of the Forest Hills-based JetBlue, which is JFK's largest airline.

The terminal, set to officially open for business next month, was finished on budget and on time, according to Barger, and will give flyers better services while they wait for their flights to destinations across the United States and to some overseas points.

Starting at the beginning of the space, there are 20 security screening lanes, the most of any North American terminal, according to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs the airport. The security scanners are some of the most up-to-date equipment available and allow administrators to keep the airport safe without sacrificing a passenger's time, Barger said.

Once they enter the terminal, travelers will have access to a 55,000-square-foot marketplace that features nine restaurants, bars and cafés, clothing, food and alcohol shops and a cell phone and laptop work area. As JetBlue employees surveyed the new marketplace, they had a chance to meet the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, who were also celebrating the opening.

Although Terminal 5, which began construction in December 2005, is full of high-tech options, it still retains mementos of the Golden Age of air travel that ushered in the airport's growth in the 1960s.

The terminal encloses the famed Eero Saarinen building, which is being rehabilitated and restored for active use by the airlines. JetBlue honored the former airline with a special fashion show featuring the TWA Clipped Wings, an organization of former TWA flight attendants, who showed off their old uniforms.

"We build for our future, but we don't forget about our past," Barger said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was on hand for the unveiling with Borough President Helen Marshall, said the completion came at a much-needed time for the city as it suffers through rough economic times on Wall Street.

Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the city, according to the mayor, and Terminal 5 will help better coordinate traffic into Kennedy as JetBlue vies for market share against other domestic carriers as well as foreign airlines.

"We are faced with competition from around the world and we have to get people here more easily," he said.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said the terminal will be even more beneficial for the nearly 5,000 JetBlue staff who come to Queens daily for work.

Since many of them live in Queens, Smith said their success with the state-of-the-art air center will keep the region economically stable.

"JetBlue has been a beneficial partner in Queens and we will do all we can to help them grow," he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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