Long Island MacArthur Airport, located on 1,310 acres in Suffolk County, is the region’s only commercial service facility which has, for most of its existence, struggled with identity and purpose.
Its second–and oval-shaped–50,000 square-foot passenger terminal, opened in 1966 and sporting two opposing, ramp-accessing gates, had exuded a small, hometown atmosphere—so much so, in fact, that scenes from the original Out-of-Towners movie had been filmed in it.
Its subsequent expansion, resulting in a one thousand percent increase in passenger terminal area and some two million annual passengers, had been sporadic and cyclic, characterized by new airline establishment which had always sparked a sequence of passenger attraction, new nonstop route implementation, and additional carriers, before declining conditions had initiated a reverse trend. During cycle peaks, check-in, gate, and ramp space had been at a premium, while during troughs, a pin drop could be heard on the terminal floor.
Its Catch-22 struggle had always entailed the circular argument of carriers reluctant to provide service to the airport because of a lack of passengers and passengers reluctant to use the airport because of a lack of service.
This, in essence, is the force which shaped its seven-decade history. And this, in essence, is Long Island MacArthur Airport’s story.
The 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act, under Section 303, authorized federal fund expenditure for landing areas provided the administrator could certify “that such landing areas were reasonably necessary for use in air commerce or in the interests of national defense.”
At the outbreak of World War II, Congress appropriated $40 million for the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense or “DLAND,” of which the Development Civil Landing Areas (DCLA) had been an extension. Because civil aviation had been initially perceived as an “appendage” of military aviation, it had been considered a “segment” of the national defense system, thus garnering direct federal government civil airport support. Local governments provided land and subsequently maintained and operated the airports. Construction of 200 such airfields began in 1941.
Long Island regional airport, located in Islip, had been one of them. On September 16 of that year, the Town of Islip–the intended owner and operator of the initially named Islip Airport–sponsored the project under an official resolution designated Public Law 78-216, providing the land, while the federal government agreed to plan and build the actual airport. The one-year, $1.5 million construction project, initiated in 1942, resulted in an airfield with three 5,000-foot runways and three ancillary taxiways. Although it had fulfilled its original military purpose, it had always been intended for public utilization.
Despite increased instrument-based flight training after installation of instrument landing system (ILS) equipment in 1947, the regional facility failed to fulfill projected expectations of becoming New York’s major airport after the recent construction of Idlewild. Losing Lockheed as a major tenant in 1950, the since-renamed MacArthur Airport, in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, would embark on a long development path before that would occur.
2. Initial Service
A 5,000-square-foot passenger terminal and restaurant, funded by the federal government, had been constructed in 1949. Infrastructurally equipped, the airport, surrounded by local community growth, sought its first public air service by petitioning the Civil Aeronautics Board. Islip had attempted to attract scheduled airline service as far back as 1956, and this ultimately took the form of Gateway Airlines three years later when it had commenced operations, on an air taxi level, with a fleet of 11-passenger de Havilland Doves and 15-passenger de Havilland Herons to Boston, Newark, and Washington. Inadequate financing, however, had led to its premature termination only eight months later.
The airport, which only had 20 based aircraft at this time, annually fielded some 30,000 movements. Allegheny Airlines subsequently received full scheduled passenger service route authority from the CAB in 1960 and inaugurated four daily Convair- and Martinliner round-trips to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington in September, carrying more than 19,000 passengers in 1961, its first full year of operations.
Two years later, the FAA opened a New York Air Route Traffic Control Center and a seven-floor control tower, and in 1966, a $1.3 million, 50,000 square-foot oval terminal replaced the original rectangular facility.
Mohawk, granted the second CAB route authority that year, inaugurated Fairchild FH-227 service to Albany, and the two scheduled airlines carried some 110,000 passengers from the since renamed Islip MacArthur Airport by 1969. The 210 based aircraft recorded 240,000 yearly movements.
The runways and taxiways were progressively expanded, partly in response to Eastern and Pan Am’s designation of the airport as an “alternate” on their flight plans.
3. First Major Carrier Service
Long envisioned as a reliever airport to JFK and La Guardia, which would provide limited, but important nonstop service to key US cities and hubs, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the major Florida destinations, the Long Island airport urgently needed additional, major-airline service, but this goal remained elusive.
The cycle, however, had been broken on April 26, 1971, when American Airlines had inaugurated 727-100 “Astrojet” service to Chicago-O’Hare, Islip’s first pure-jet and first “trunk” carrier operation, permitting same-day, round-trip business travel and eliminating the otherwise required La Guardia commute. Because of American’s major-carrier prestige, it had attracted both attention and passengers, indicating that Islip had attained “large airport” status, and the Chicago route, now the longest nonstop one from the air field, had provided a vital lifeline to a primary, Midwestern city and to American’s route system, offering numerous flight connections.
The route had been quickly followed in the summer with the inauguration of Allegheny DC-9-30 service to Providence and Washington, while Altair had launched Beech B99 and Nord N.262 turboprop flights to Bridgeport and Philadelphia two years later.
American, Allegheny (which had intermittently merged with Mohawk in 1972), and Altair provided the established Long Island air connection during the 1970s.
In order to reflect its regional location, the facility had, for the fourth time, been renamed, adopting the title of Long Island MacArthur Airport in 1978.
During most of the 1970s, it handled an average of 225,000 annual passengers. Allegheny, the premier operator, had offered nine daily pure-jet BAC-111 and DC-9-30 departures during 1978.
By March of 1982, USAir, the rebranded Allegheny Airlines, had been its only remaining pure-jet carrier with daily DC-9-30 service to Albany and BAC-111-200 service to Washington-National–perhaps emphasizing its ability to profitably operate from small-community airfields with its properly-sized twin-jet equipment.
The early 1980s were characterized by commuter-regional carrier dominance, with operations provided by Pilgrim, New Haven Airlines, Altair, Air North, Mall Airways, and Ransome. The latter, first flying as part of the Allegheny Commuter consortium, later operated independently under its own name in affiliation with Delta Air Lines, offering some 17 daily M-298 and DHC-7 departures to seven regional cities.
Aside from Ransome, it had often appeared as if the airport’s regional airline floodgates had been gappingly opened: Suburban/Allegheny Commuter, Southern Jersey/Allegheny Commuter, Empire, and Henson-The Piedmont Regional Airline had all descended on its runways. Precision, which had inaugurated multiple-daily Dornier Do-228-200 services to both Boston and Philadelphia, operated independently, as Precision-Eastern Express, and as Precision-Northwest Airlink, and had been the only airline to simultaneously offer scheduled service from neighboring Republic Airport in Farmingdale, primarily a general aviation field.
4. Northeastern International Airlines
Market studies had long indicated the need for nonstop Long Island-Florida service because of its concentration of tourist attractions and to facilitate visits between Long Island children and Florida-relocated retiree parents. Deregulation, the very force behind multiple-airline creation, divergent service and fare concepts, and the relative ease of new market entry, had spawned Northeastern International, which was founded to provide high-density, low-fare, limited-amenity service, and fulfilled the idealized nonstop, Long Island-Florida connection when it had inaugurated operations on February 11, 1982 with a former Evergreen International DC-8-50, initially offering four weekly round-trips to Fort Lauderdale and one to Orlando. After a second aircraft had been acquired, it had been able to record a 150,000-passenger total during its first year of service, with 32,075 having been boarded in December alone.
Although its corporate headquarters had been located in Fort Lauderdale, its operational base had been established at Long Island MacArthur and it ultimately served Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, and St. Petersburgh with the two DC-8s and two former Pan Am 727-100s with seven daily departures. Incorporating both the charter carrier strategy of operating high-density, single-class, low-fare service, and the major airline strategy of flying large-capacity aircraft, it actually served a very competitive route—that of New York-to-Florida—without incurring any competition at all by operating directly from Islip.
By 1984, with Northeastern having served as a catalyst to carrier and route inaugurations, eleven airlines had served the airport, inclusive of Allegheny Commuter, American, Eastern, Empire, Henson, NewAir, Northeastern, Pilgrim, Ransome, United, and USAir, relieving JFK and La Guardia of air traffic, directly serving the Long Island market, and fulfilling the airport’s originally envisioned role of becoming New York’s secondary commercial facility. Simultaneously providing nonstop service to Chicago-O’Hare from Islip, American and United both competed for the same passenger base.
By 1986, Long Island MacArthur had, for the first time in its 36-year scheduled history, handled one million passengers in a single year, a level since equaled or exceeded.
To cater to the explosive demand and ease its now-overstrained passenger facilities, the Town of Islip embarked on a progressive terminal facility improvement program which had initially encompassed the addition of two commuter aircraft gates, the enclosure of the former curbside front awning, and two glass-enclosed wings—the west for the now-covered baggage carousel and the east for the three relocated rental-car counters and the Austin Travel agency. The internal roadway had been realigned and additional parking spaces had been created.
A more ambitious terminal expansion program, occurring in 1990 and costing $3.2 million, resulted in two jetbridge-lined concourses which extended from the rear portion of the oval terminal, adding 22,700 square feet of space. Runway 6-24’s 1,000-foot extension, to 7,000 feet, had ultimately been completed three years later after a decade of primarily local resident resistance due to believed noise increases.
By the end of 1990, the transformation of Long Island MacArthur Airport from a small, hometown airfield served by a couple of operators to a major facility served by most of the major carriers had been complete.
Several conclusions could already be drawn from the airport’s hitherto 30-year scheduled history.
1. Allegheny-USAir, along with its regional subsidiaries Allegheny Commuter and USAir Express, had provided the initial spark which had led to the present growth explosion and had been the only consistent, anchor carrier during its three-decade, scheduled service history, between 1960 and 1990. During this time it had absorbed other Islip operators, inclusive of the original Mohawk and Piedmont, the latter of which had intermittently absorbed Empire and Henson, and had shed still others, such as Ransome Airlines, which, as an independent carrier, had almost established a regional, turboprop hub at MacArthur.
2. Three carriers had been tantamount to its three-decade evolution: (1). Allegheny-USAir, which had reserved the distinction of being Long Island MacArthur’s first, largest, and, for a period, only pure-jet operator; American, which had changed its image by associating it with large, trunk-carrier prestige; and Northeastern, whose bold, innovative service inauguration and low fares had been directly responsible for the latest, unceasing growth cycle.
3. Many airlines, unaware of the facility’s traffic potential, never permanently abandoned the air field, including American and Eastern, which had both suspended operations, but subsequently returned; Northeastern, which had returned after two bankruptcies; United, which had discontinued its own service, yet maintained a presence through two separate regional airline affiliations—Presidential-United Express and Atlantic Coast-United Express—thus continuing to link its Washington-Dulles hub; Continental, which had returned through its own commuter agreement; and Pilgrim, which, despite service discontinuation, had maintained an autonomous check-in counter where it had handled other carriers until it itself had reinstated service.
4. Of the approximately 30 airlines which had served Long Island MacArthur, many had indirectly retained a presence either through name-change, other-carrier absorption, or regional-airline two-letter code-share agreements.
5. The Northeastern-forged air link between Long Island and Florida had, despite its own final bankruptcy, never been lost, with other carriers always filling the void, including Eastern, Carnival, Braniff, Delta Express, and Spirit Airlines.
Because of its market fragility, however, the Long Island regional airport was far more vulnerable to economic cycles than the primary New York airports had been, recessed conditions often resulting in the exodus of carriers in search of more profitable routes. In 1994, for example, three airlines discontinued service and one ceased operating altogether.
A $13.2 million expansion program of the 32-year old, multiply-renovated oval terminal, funded by passenger facility charge (PFC)-generated revenue, had been initiated in the spring of 1998 and completed in August of the following year, resulting in a 62,000-square-foot area increase. The enlarged, reconfigured structure included the addition of two wings–the west with four baggage carousels, three rental car counters, and several airline baggage service offices, and the east with 48 (as opposed to the previous 20) passenger check-in positions. The original, oval-shaped structure now housed an enlarged newsstand and gift shop and the relocated central security checkpoint, but retained the departures level snack bar, the upper level Skyway Café and cocktail lounge, and the twin, jetbridge-provisioned concourses added during the 1990 expansion phase, while the aircraft parking ramp had been progressively increased until the last blade of grass had been transformed into concrete. A realigned entrance road, an extension of the existing short-term parking lot, 1,000 additional parking spaces, and a quasi-parking lot system subdivided into employee, resident, hourly, daily, and economy (long-term) sections had completed the renovation. Shuttle bus service between the parking lot and the terminal was provided for the first time.
5. Southwest Airlines
An effort to attract Southwest Airlines had begun in late-1996 when the rapidly-expanding, highly profitable, low-fare carrier had contemplated service to a third northeast city after Manchester and Providence, inclusive of Newburgh’s Stewart International and White Plains’ Westchester County in New York; Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut; and Teterboro and Trenton’s Mercer County in New Jersey. All had been smaller, secondary airports characteristic of its route system. It had even briefly explored service to Farmingdale’s Republic Airport on Long Island and Teterboro in New Jersey, both of which had been noncommercial, general aviation fields with business jet concentrations. Three had offered terminal improvements in exchange for the service. But Long Island MacArthur was ultimately selected because of the 1.6 million residents living within a 20-mile radius of the airport, local business health, and, according to Southwest Chief Executive Officer, Herb Kelleher, “underserved, overpriced air service” which was “ripe for competition.”
Following initial Southwest interest in 1997, then-Town of Islip Supervisor Peter McGowan and other officials flew to Dallas, where Herb Kelleher stated the need for the previously described terminal and parking facility expansions before operations could begin. The meeting had ended with nothing more than a symbolic handshake.
The nearly two-year effort to entice the airline had culminated in the December 1998 announcement of Southwest’s intended March 14, 1999 service launch with 12 daily 737 departures, including eight to Baltimore, two to Chicago-Midway, one to Nashville, and one to Tampa, all of which would provide through- or connecting-service to 29 other Southwest-served cities. Although the low-fare flights had been expected to attract some passengers who may otherwise have flown from JFK or La Guardia Airports, they had been primarily targeted at the Long Island market and, as a byproduct, had been expected to attract an increased airport traffic base, additional carriers, and generate an estimated $500,000 per year for the Town of Islip. Two Southwest-dedicated gates could accommodate up to 20 daily departures—or eight more than the inaugural flight schedule included—before additional facilities would have to be obtained. The Islip station, staffed by 44, represented its 53rd destination in 27 states.
Southwest had provided the fourth spark in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s airline- and passenger-attraction cycle, traced as follows:
1. The original air taxi Gateway Airlines service of 1959 and the initial scheduled Allegheny Airlines service of 1960.
2. The first trunk-carrier, pure-jet American Airlines flights of 1971.
3. The first low-fare, nonstop Northeastern International Florida service of 1982.
4. The first low-fare, high frequency, major-carrier Southwest service of 1999.
American, the last of the original, major carriers to vacate the airport, left it with three predominant types of airlines as the millennium had approached:
1. The turboprop commuter airline serving the nonhub destinations, such as Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Hartford, and Newburgh.
2. The regional jet operator feeding its major-carrier affiliate at one of its hubs, such as ASA feeding Delta in Atlanta, Comair connecting with Delta in Cincinnati, and Continental Express integrating its flight schedule with Continental in Cleveland.
3. The low-fare, high-density, no-frills carrier operating the leisure-oriented sectors to Florida. As of December 1, 1999, three airlines, inclusive of Delta Express, Southwest, and Spirit, had operated 15 daily departures to five Florida destinations.
Long Island MacArthur’s expansion and passenger facility improvements, Southwest’s service inauguration, and the attraction of other carriers had collectively resulted in a 113% increase in passenger boardings in 1999 compared to the year-earlier period. The figure, which had been only shy of the two million mark, had been the highest in the Long Island airport’s four-decade commercial history. Southwest had carried 34% of this total.
Eleven airlines had provided service during this time: ASA Atlantic Southeast, American, Business Express, Comair, CommutAir/US Airways Express, Continental Express, Delta Express, Piedmont/US Airways Express, Shuttle America, Spirit, and Southwest itself.
Less than two weeks after Southwest had secured a third gate and increased its daily departures to 22, it announced, in a unprecedented move, its intention to self-finance 90-percent of a $42 million expansion of the East Concourse in order to construct four additional, dedicated gates and overnight parking positions by the end of 2001, thus increasing the airport’s current 19-gate total to 23.
The concourse extension, intended to provide it with both increased employee and passenger room, would free up its existing three gates for other-carrier utilization while its new four-gate facility would permit a service increase to some 30 daily flights based upon future passenger demand, aircraft availability, and Town of Islip-approved departure increases.
The expansion would mark the seventh such development of the original terminal, as follows:
1. The original oval terminal construction.
2. The partially enclosed arrivals baggage belt installation.
3. The construction of two commuter gates.
4. The enclosure of the front awning, which entailed the relocation of the rental car companies and the Austin Travel agency, and the installation of an enlarged, fully enclosed baggage belt.
5. The construction of the jetbridge-equipped east and west concourses.
6. The construction of the West Arrivals Wing and the East Departures Wing, the gift shop expansion, and the central security checkpoint relocation.
7. The Southwest-financed, quad-gate addition, increasing the number of departure gates from 19 to 23.
Victim, like all airports, to post-September 11 traffic declines, Long Island MacArthur Airport lost eight daily departures operated by American Eagle, Delta Express, and US Airways Express, although the airport’s October 2001 passenger figures had only been six percent below those of the year-earlier period. No nonstop destinations had, however, been severed. With Delta Express’s daily 737-200 Florida flight frequency having been progressively reduced from an all-time high of seven to just one–to Fort Lauderdale–its operations could be divided into three categories:
1. Turboprop regional
2. Pure-jet regional
Nevertheless, in the four years since Southwest had inaugurated service, the airport had handled 8,220,790 passengers, or an annual average of two million. Without Southwest, it would, at best, have handled only half that amount.
On April 30, 2003, for the second time in a five-year period, Long Island MacArthur Airport broke ground on new terminal facilities. Designed by the Baldassano Architectural Group, the Long Island architectural firm which had completed the $13.2 million airport expansion and modernization program in 1999, the new, 154,000-square-foot, four-gate addition was constructed on the north side of the existing east concourse which had housed Southwest’s operations. Citing increased space and potential growth as reasons for the new facility, Southwest claimed that the existing three gates, which had fielded a combined 24 daily departures, had reached their saturation point and that additional “breathing room” for both passengers and employees had been needed, particularly during flight delays. The net gain of an additional gate, which would be coupled with larger lounges, would eventually facilitate eight additional flights to new or existing US destinations, based upon market demand.
The project, initially pegged at $42 million, but later increased to $62 million, was financed by Southwest, which sought government reimbursement with the Town of Islip for up to $18 million for the non-airline specific construction aspects, such as airfield drainage, which was considered a common-use utility.
The 114,254-square-foot, Southwest-funded and -named Peter J. McGowan Concourse officially opened at the end of November 2004. Accessed by a new awning-protected entrance from the airport’s terminal-fronted curbside, the new wing, connected to the existing passenger check-in area, curved to the left past the flight arrival and departure television monitors to the new, large security checkpoint from where passengers ascended, via two escalators, to the upper level departures area.
Concurrent with the opening had been the announcement that Southwest would now proceed with Phase II of its expansion by building a second, $20 million addition which would connect the new concourse with the old, altogether replacing the east concourse which had served it since it had inaugurated service in 1999. The project incorporated four more gates, for a total of eight, enabling up to 80 daily departures to be offered.
6. New Leadership, Service Reductions, and Infrastructure Improvements
The end of the 2000-decade, characterized by new leadership, airline service reductions, and infrastructure investments, once again signaled a reversal in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s growth cycle.
Al Werner, who had grown up in nearby Bayport, served in the Air Force, and become an air traffic controller in the MacArthur tower in 1951, retired on November 16, 2007 as Airport Commissioner after 53 years, passing the torch to Teresa Rizzuto. Accepted after a three-month, nationwide search conducted by Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan, she brought considerable airline industry experience with her, having commenced her aviation career as a United Airlines Ramp Service Agent at JFK in 1992. Promoted, six years later, to United’s Terminal Manager at Newark Liberty International Airport, she had fielded 36 daily United flights, along with those of six other carriers, which had resulted in a five million annual passenger throughput and for which she had been given a $30 million budget, while still later she had been in charge of 1,600 employees as a United Hub Manager at Washington-Dulles International Airport. Comparatively, Islip offered 36 daily flights, which carried some two million yearly passengers, with an associated $8.9 million budget.
Appointed Long Island MacArthur Airport Commissioner on February 5, 2008 after an Islip Town Board vote, she was entrusted with heralding the regional facility into the next decade whose multi-faceted agenda necessarily included the following goals:
1. Devise a marketing plan to increase airport recognition, thereby attracting a larger passenger base.
2. Establish new, nonstop routes of existing carriers and attract new airlines able to compete with existing, lost-cost Southwest, to provide the required core service for this enlarged passenger base, yet avoid alienating local residents because of excessive noise.
3. Invest in infrastructure modernization and development, particularly on the airport’s general aviation west side.
4. Increase revenues for the Town of Islip, the airport’s owner and operator.
Long Island MacArthur’s very existence relied upon its ability to serve its customers’ needs, and both destination and airline reductions during the latter part of the decade, coupled with flickering, but quickly extinguished glimmers of new-carrier hope, only obviated its purpose.
Exploratory talks in 2007, with Southwest-modeled, Ireland based-Ryanair, for instance, would have resulted in both the airport’s first international and first transatlantic service, hitherto precluded by the absence of customs and immigration facilities, few connecting possibilities, and inadequate runway length on which heavy, fuel-laden widebody aircraft could take off for intercontinental sectors. But higher thrust engines facilitating shorter-field performance had remedied the latter problem, and pre-departure US clearance would have been performed in Ireland. Because Southwest and Ryanair maintained the same business models of operating single-type, 737 fleets from underserved, overpriced, secondary airports whose lower operating costs could be channeled into lower fares, domestic-international traffic feed between the two had been feasible. Despite existing Islip service provided by Delta and US Airways Express, Southwest still carried 92 percent of its passengers. However, the proposed strategy had yet to produce any concrete results.
Indeed, by the end of the year, the number of potential Southwest connecting flights only declined when decreased demand had necessitated the cancellation of six daily departures, including two to Baltimore, three to Chicago, and one to Las Vegas.
Potential service loss counterbalancing occurred on May 1 of the following year, however, when Spirit Airlines, after an eight-year interval, reinaugurated twice daily, round-trip, A-319 service to Ft. Lauderdale, with $7.00 introductory fares, facilitating 23 Caribbean and Latin American connections through its south Florida hub. The service, reinstated because of Islip’s ease of access and uncongested operating environment, was prompted by a 50-percent landing fee reduction during its first year of operations, and had the potential to generate $300,000 in airport revenues from parking fees, car rentals, and concessions. It became the second carrier, after Southwest, to serve Ft. Lauderdale, the latter with three daily departures.
The A-319, the airport’s first, regularly scheduled airbus operation, touched down at 0954 on Runway 6 on its inaugural flight, taxiing through a dual fire truck-created water arch, before redeparting at 1030 as Flight 833 with a high load factor. The second flight departed in the evening.
The departures were two of Spirit’s more than 200 systemwide flights to 43 destinations, but the weak flicker of light they had provided had been almost as quickly doused when, three months later, on July 31, rising fuel prices and declining economic conditions had necessitated their discontinuation, leaving only a promise of return when improved conditions merited their reinstatement.
Further tipping the scales to the service loss side had been Delta Air Line’s decision to discontinue its only remaining, single daily regional jet service operated by its Comair counterpart to Atlanta, severing feed to the world’s largest airport in terms of enplanements and to Delta’s largest connecting hub, and ending the Long Island presence established as far back as 1984. Delta had cited the reason for the discontinuation, along with that in other markets, as an attempt to “optimize…financial performance.” Its 19 employees had been rendered redundant.
The second carrier loss, leaving only Southwest and US Airways Express, had resulted in a 10.2-percent passenger decline in 2008 compared to the year-earlier period.
Another attempted, but mostly unsuccessful airline service had occurred in June of 2009 with the appearance of PublicCharters.com, which had intended to link Islip with Groton, Connecticut, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, during the summer.
In order to remedy Long Island MacArthur Airport’s identity recognition deficiency, a study completed by a Phil Nolan-assembled task force strongly concluded that the search for and attraction of new airline service “should be a major focus of management,” a function up until now mostly ignored. The airport’s lack of recognition, coupled with JFK’s and La Guardia’s close proximity to Manhattan and their dizzying array of nonstop services, further urged the need for the study.
A $150,000 federal grant, aimed at answering the elusive question of why Long Islanders still chose to use New York airports when Islip itself offered a nonstop flight, attempted to determine local resident travel patterns and then attract carrier-providing service.
A partial remedy had been the implementation of a $300,000 market campaign, in conjunction with the Long Island Railroad and Southwest Airlines, to increase airport awareness by the eastern Nassau and Suffolk County population, featuring the slogan, “We make flying a breeze.”
Significant attention to airport infrastructure improvement and a related masterplan had also been given.
A $1.6 million sprinkler installation and asbestos removal program, subsidized by $300,000 of airport funds, had been prompted by the forced, August 2006 closure of the T.G.I. Friday’s Restaurant located in the original, oval portion of the terminal, due to state code dictating presence in its vicinity, although its bar and take-out portion had continued to operate. The Town of Islip awarded a Melville company a $75,000 contract to design the sprinkler system that September, but its installation was delayed when it had decided to include the asbestos removal in the renovation.
Outside, the long-awaited ramp repairs had also been made. One year after the $12.4 million apron covering gates five through eight had been laid in 2004, cracks, in which engine-digestible debris could potentially collect, appeared, and were traceable to an inadequate, six-inch-thick subbase which failed to rise above the ground level, and was therefore susceptible to frost. Water, seeping into the subbase, was subjected to freezing-thawing cycles which expanded the concrete, loosened its gravel, and propagated the cracks.
Because the concrete fronting gates three and four had been laid at the same time, it had also been removed and resurfaced.
A $1.3 million Federal Aviation Administration grant had equally enabled it to repave its longest runway, 6-24, during low operational times, between 2300 and 0500.
In order to replace the decaying, 105-foot control tower constructed in 1962, the FAA awarded J. Kokolakis Constructing, Inc., of Rocky Point, a $16.4 million contract to build a new, 157-foot, cylindrical tower next to it in January of 2008, a project completed in November of the following year, at which time internal equipment, costing another $8.8 million, was installed.
Because Long Island MacArthur is an alternate to JFK and La Guardia and a Suffolk County emergency response staging area, its previous 100,000-gallon underground jet fuel tanks were replaced with more-than-triple capacity, 325,000-gallon units, after extension of a $5 million loan from Southwest Airlines, thus increasing the airport’s reserve from 1.5 to almost five days.
Other improvements have included new runway light installations, a surveillance camera system, Wi-Fi, a revised website, and an internal roadway reconfiguration.
Instrumental in the airport’s modernization had been the redevelopment of its 45-acre west side, which currently houses charter companies, flying schools, and airport maintenance in mostly dilapidated hangars and buildings, but could potentially be replaced with new energy efficient and conservation compliant structures optimally used by educational institutions offering air traffic control curriculums.
During the latter portion of the decade, Long Island MacArthur Airport once again rode the descending side of the revenue curve, but remains a vital air link and economic engine to eastern Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Between 1996 and 2003, it had experienced an average annual economic impact growth rate of 6.85 percent and between 2001 and 2007 more than 900,000 square feet of commercial space was developed along Veterans Highway, its access roadway, as a result of it. According to Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies, its 2003 economic impact was pegged at $202 million and was projected to increase by 68 percent, or to $340 million, by the end of the decade without any further expansion, indicating that, as a revenue generator, that its potential had hardly begun to be tapped. The service reductions, increases in Homeland Security costs, and eroding economy had all reversed that potential, but its infrastructure improvements, more than 500,000-square-foot passenger terminal, four runways, easy access, uncongested environment, two-mile proximity to the Long Island Railroad’s Ronkonkoma station, and four-mile proximity to the Long Island Expressway places it squarely on the threshold of growth in the next decade, when conditions improve. According to newly appointed Airport Commissioner Teresa Rizzuto, “We’re ready” for new carriers at that time.