By Karl Grossman
For residents of eastern and central Long Island, getting to and from LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports is an ordeal. There’s dealing with traffic jams on the LIE or Sunrise Highway and Southern State and Belt Parkways, parking and getting to and later from terminals.
And the crowds and the confusion.
That’s why Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma promotes itself with the slogan: “We make flying a breeze.” It’s easy and relatively quick to get to and from, parking is convenient, the terminal is right there.
Thus the recent news of a steep decline in flights at MacArthur would seem surprising. Departures of commercial flights from MacArthur dropped 46.4 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to a report by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation. In 2012, arrivals and departures were the fewest since 1999.
An article in Newsday cited as reasons for this the economic downturn, higher fuel prices, airlines trimming flights at smaller airports and MacArthur’s largely relying now on one carrier, Southwest plus the competition with LaGuardia and Kennedy.
There has been a push by the Town of Islip, which owns and operates the airport, to build up MacArthur’s flights and services. And U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, long a champion of MacArthur, has been involved in this, too.
Last week, Mr. Schumer, at a press conference at MacArthur, kicked off a campaign to get a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility there. Already, two airlines, he said, have expressed interest in coming to MacArthur if such a facility was established. He identified them as Mexico-based Interjet and FlyA which, according to reports on the Internet, is being set up by the founder and former CEO of a Swiss regional airline called Baboo to fly mainly out of Europe starting this summer.
“Things have changed regarding MacArthur since we came into office,” Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci was saying last week. “We’ve recognized that the town needs to approach airlines like businesses and be a business partner.”
Last year, he noted, there was the start of direct U.S. Airways flights between MacArthur and Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and direct Pennair flights between MacArthur and Boston. “We know the public loves to fly and prefers to fly from MacArthur Airport,” said Mr. Croci.
Also, he said from his town hall office, “we need to market Long Island. You go to Orlando and you get off the plane and you know you’re in Orlando. We need people to know they’ll be close to vineyards and beaches and an hour’s train ride from the greatest city in the world.”
As with other airports on Long Island, MacArthur has faced resistance from neighbors who fear any expansion will mean an increase in noise. Indeed, that’s why there has been for over a decade an agreement that bars flights in and out of MacArthur between ll p.m. and 6 a.m.
Still, maintained Mr. Croci—who noted “I grew up in Bohemia on the flight path of the main runway at MacArthur”—town residents including those close to MacArthur “would like to see the hotels along Veterans Highway filled with vacation and business travelers.”
“What they don’t want is to live next to a Kennedy or LaGuardia.”
The saga of airports and Suffolk is loaded with collisions between airports and their neighbors. What’s now Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, for example, which got its start, like MacArthur, as a military field during World War II, was eyed by then Suffolk County Executive H. Lee Dennison as a major center for air cargo and charter flights for the New York metropolitan area. It had been Suffolk County Air Force Base until being turned over to Suffolk County in 1970. Neighbors of Gabreski, worried about noise and the kind of massive development caused by the growth of LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports, fought that scheme hard. The field remains limited in use.
Earlier, Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1965 proposed the Grumman Corporation field in Calverton as the fourth major airport for the New York metropolitan area. Local opposition—and Grumman—stopped this scheme. Later, with Grumman leaving Calverton, there was interest again in its use as a major commercial field. It, too, got nowhere.
So for residents of Suffolk County, we continue—for flights overseas and many domestic points—to go, with considerable pain, to LaGuardia and Kennedy.