New York Air finally got off the ground yesterday, providing the first serious competition to the heavily traveled Eastern Airlines Shuttle between Washington and New York.

Although one of the DC9 morning flights was delayed an hour in New York, the rest of the day's schedule of 10 roundtrips appeared to go smoothly and to please New York Air's first-day customers.

"It was great -- good service and on time," Los Angeles businessman Gary Madden said, arriving at National Airport at 11:30 a.m. yesterday. Madden said he had heard about New York Air through its advertising in New York and decided to try it instead of the Eastern shuttle. "It's kind of nice to get a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice for a change."

Madden came to Washington on one of New York Air's regular-fare flights, costing $49 each way; the price includes a reserved seat, a cocktail and snacks on some flights. On New York Air's off-peak flights -- a lunchtime and a night flight Monday through Friday and all flights on weekends -- New York Air charges $29 each way and eliminates the cocktail. The regular Eastern shuttle fare is $59, with seats guaranteed to anyone who shows up at the gate; no beverages are provided on board.

Although there were plenty of seats available on most of yesterday's flights, the $29 noon flight appeared to be filled. Among the passengers were more than a dozen students from Middleburg's Foxcroft School going home for the holidays who were booked on New York Air by the school's travel agent, as well as others who had heard about the new service and decided to try it -- such as Potomac contractor Antonio Marinelli. He said he was having coffee at a Potomac drug store in the morning when someone told him about NYA. Bound for a dedication in New York, Marinelli said he decided to try NYA instead of the shuttle for the half-day trip. "It's quite a savings," he noted.

During the morning, members of unions representing some of the employes of Texas International Airlines, an affiliate of New York Air, picketed in front of the terminal at both National Airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport. Members of the Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Machinists' Union, the picketers charged that New York Air was a "runaway shop." Texas Air Corp., the parent company of Texas International, organized a separate airline just to get away from its contractual wage and work-rule obligations, they said.

The union members contended that the jobs at New York Air should have been offered to employes of Texas International. "They've taken TI management, TI aircraft, TI money," a TI pilot said. "They just want to escape the union contracts." Another complained that NYA employes are doing the same work as TI employes, but for half the wages.

NYA President Neal Meehan disagreed. "Our position is that it's a separate and distinct airline," he said. "The contracts that exist with TI do not have jurisdiction over NYA." Meehan added that NYA employe wages are lower because of the low seniority at NYA. IIn addition, he said, NYA has a different compensation plan than that at TI; NYA has issued stock to all its employes so each has a "part ownership" in the airline.

Although service started at 7 a.m. yesterday, the noon flight was the occasion of the formal dedication ceremony at the gate here. Meehan and Senior Vice President Kenneth Carlson were on hand to toast the new operation and their employes with glasses of apple cider. Airport authorities said the champagne planned for the occasion wasn't allowed in the terminal.

Based in New York, the new airline is drawing on Manhattan associations for its operations, graphics and advertising. For instance, the stylish uniforms being worn by NYA's flight attendants and ticket agents were designed by Tony Award Winner Theoni Aldredge, who designed costumes for "Chorus Line" and "42nd Street," both Broadway musicals. Graphics adorning New York Air's bright red planes, and schedules feature "the love apple" -- a combination of The Big Apple, New York's nickname, and I Love New York, the city's promotional slogan. Radio ads feature the theme song from the movie, "New York, New York."