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Future of MacArthur Airport Taking Shape

Residents are in on the ground floor of planning process as Islip Town officials seek to turn airport into regional powerhouse.

The terminal of Long Island MacArthur Airport was packed with people on Tuesday night.

They weren't flying anywhere, but instead were on hand for a public workshop about the future of the Ronkonkoma airport.

In an unusual move Islip Town officials decided, with the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration, to seek public input at the beginning stages of developing a long-term master plan.

Town Supervisor Tom Croci, in his first year in office, called the move a "proactive step" to allow residents as much say as possible in how the airport develops in the future.

More than 100 residents turned out for the workshop, and they had a chance to review a number of concepts, including a possible light rail service between the airport and the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station, developed by Landrum and Brown, the airport's planning consultants.

Several residents spoke of potential conflicting interests, namely the desire for growth at the airport and concerns about noise and quality-of-life issues.

"I'm willing to bite the bullet a little if it won't ruin our suburbia," said Joan, of Bohemia, of the Town's desire to court new airlines. "I don't want it to turn into Queens. That's why I left Queens."

Sue Luadato, of Ronkonkoma, said she's called the Town in the past to complain about noise from planes and helicopters near the airport.

"Leave it the way it is," said Luadato, who also expressed concerns that a plan to extend a runway at the airport will lead to larger planes using it, and thus create more noise. "Maybe bring in one more carrier."

Town officials countered airplanes these days leave much smaller "noise footprints," producing about one-sixth of the noise that planes in the 80s and 90s did.

Luring another airline to the airport, which is now served by just Southwest and US Airways, remains the top priority going forward, according to Terry Hennessey, the acting commissioner of the airport.

Currently the airport has 22 flights a day, and that includes two new direct flights to Washington DC, operated by US Airways. That's half the number the airport flew at its peak in the mid-2000s.

Hennessey was deputy aviation commissioner in March before stepping in as commissioner when the Town Board voted to fire Teresa Rizzuto last month.

Asked if the airport can survive with just one major carrier (Southwest), Hennessey said, "It can survive for a time, but we're not making nearly as much money as when we had 80 flights."

The Town has been flirting for years with other carriers, from JetBlue to Air Canada, but as of now, the airport continues to operate well below capacity.

"It's very important that we get another carrier in here," Hennessey said. "I won't lie to you; it's a tough sell."

One option under consideration as part of the master plan is to extend another runway at the airport to 7,000 feet.

The goal of that move wouldn't be to draw larger planes to the airport, but to give pilots and air traffic controllers more flexibility in poor weather, Hennessey said.

The big prize for Town officials, though, is turning people like Rob Ledogar into frequent MacArthur fliers.

He lives right next door to MacArthur in Bohemia, but Ledogar flies out of Kennedy four to six times a year. He's taken off from MacArthur just once on a trip to Las Vegas. Today there are no longer any direct flights to Las Vegas from MacArthur.

"I'd rather they add more flights so I don't have to go out of JFK," said Ledogar, who added he wasn't worried about increased noise.

The Town plans to continue to solicit input from the public in the coming months, with the master plan likely slated for FAA approval early next year.

Town Councilman Steve Flotteron said officials have no desire to turn MacArthur into a large airport, but the economic benefits of more flights, from new jobs to higher profits for local hotels, are immense.

"Staying the same, we die on the vine," said Flotteron, later adding, "If we don't have a healthy airport, then taxpayers might have to bail it out."

"We have to be a little more than a gateway to Florida here," Flotteron said.

See the PDF to the right of this article to view all of the preliminary concepts presented at Tuesday's workshop.

April July 19, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Had to fly into Ft. Lauderdale at the last minute for a family funeral about a month ago. Would have LOVED to fly out of MacArthur, but the fares were so much more than Jet Blue out of JFK. However, ended up flying back home from FL with Delta since there was a problem in the Air Traffic Control center for Jet Blue - stuck in the airport in FL for almost 9 hours! Seems that maybe more people would flock to MacArthur airport if you gave us more options - add another carrier (Delta was pretty decent on my recent flight home). Try doing something different - having the local people have their say is GREAT, but further change is needed for the airport to grow and improve. There's a saying that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." People are typically afraid or resistant to change, but change is healthy! Hope to be kept in the loop as things develop at MacArthur.
marie C July 19, 2012 at 03:53 PM
YES!
K. Diaz July 19, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I must be lucky as I use SWA to fly up and down the east coast and into the gulf coast/ Texas area 2-3 times a month with no issues to complain about. Sometime’s there's a two hour layover but typically it’s no pane change just a stop. I’d rather a layover at Islip then trekking to JFK which can take up to two hours in traffic each way never mind the added parking, baggage fees etc. I’m all for having additional carriers as the airport is underutilized…that said I’d still use SWA in most cases.
Rich C July 20, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I fly 20 business and personal trips a year and can no longer depend on ISP as the schedules are terrible and the fares often much higher than JFK and LGA. To remain viable, ISP must expand. Years ago, town officials made a (fatal?) error expanding the terminal in its present location instead of relocating and connecting it to the LIRR Ronk station. That would have created better access than JFK’s popular air train and ISP would have been the only NY area airport with a direct rail link to the city and all of the LIRR main line communities. Did politics and the NYMBY’s blow that chance for the greater good of LI? Probably. With the Port Authority pouring billions into expansions at JFK and LGA, those facilities will become even more attractive and the “leaking” of passengers who would otherwise use ISP will accelerate. ISP needs to catch up and quick. It had briefly achieved the ‘critical mass’ needed to become a reliable airport and has now lost that. Assuming moving the terminal now would be too expensive an option; a light rail link is the next best thing. The only way to lure the major carriers back is to guaranty them a steady flow of passenger traffic. Delta, AA and US Airways ... we need you to fly to the major hubs again. Can you believe SW recently cancelled all Chicago flights! It’s silly to maintain this airport just for FL service. Sadly that’s what it is. I look forward to seeing what the leadership of this airport can accomplish.
Ralebird July 20, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I hope the people who run this airport are reading these comments. While only anecdotal, they confirm my belief in what has caused the failure at Islip better than any scientific survey could have. The new commissioner at the airport needs to confirm or disprove the thoughts expressed here and communicate them to the airlines. And above all if they want a true picture of demand the town must view this as a regional airport and collect information from beyond their own borders. While not to be disregarded, the self-serving interests of the few who bought homes near an airport and now complain about aircraft noise can not be allowed to derail efforts to make this a successful facility.
pw July 20, 2012 at 07:35 PM
The area under the flight path of macarthur has always has been zoned residential and people did what was required by the zoning laws, which is to build homes and expect the surrounding land use to be compatible . Government has a moral and legal responsibility to the people living there and to ensure their environment be compatible with the residences, We as a society nor should government run over the rights of the residence. Not for convenience or economic gain, The residents are the victims of bad Islip government not the problem, i believe the residents have already bore a unfair burden with the deleterious effect on there live, health and safety from the over industrialization, the transportation hub (LIRR sta, Macarthur airport, the incinerator,and a long host of badly and dangerous projects adversely effecting the residences and overwhelming the environment, This is too much for humans to handle No more, please
Ralebird July 20, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The airport has been there since 1942, the railroad much longer. No one is ever "required" to build or buy a home in a specific area. The only expectation one should have is that it is their own responsibility to investigate what is surrounding the area and if there is the possibility that future development is possible within existing zoning regulations. Your failure to observe the concept of caveat emptor or provide adequate due diligence in selecting where to live is the root of your complaints, not the ordinary growth and development of a populated area.
pw July 20, 2012 at 11:30 PM
you are talking about people homes lives and families. Our homes are not a stock investment or business decision. Governments spent millions of dollar and much time and effort on zoning. If we can't protect the zoning,then do away with zoning laws (sic). let each do as they want without regard to the consequences on others. How many lives my be lost families or homes destroyed is of no concern. All civil order brakes down a chaos prevails. We need to respect the rights of others and not destroy them. We need to protect our families and homes not destroy themOur democracy cannot function without protection of individual rights. You could be next to lose you rights to life, health and justice and equal protection under the law that is so vital for our democracy and nation to continue
pw July 21, 2012 at 12:44 AM
FYI, the zoning pre-dates the airport. The airport was built during war time with war time powers which over rode all laws giving all power to the government in defense of the country and suspended many rights and protections. The airport character changed from serving local need s to serving the NYC metropolitan area, Nobody expected the small town airport to be expanded like it was. Again we are victims not the problem Government failed to protect us from a very dangerous situation their projects created. I am not advocating the airports closing, but objecting to the unwarranted and dangerous expansion of the transportation hub and all that it includes.
Justin Time July 21, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Did you or did you not have a choice where you live?
pw July 21, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I expect and government has an obligation to protect my life a my families life and health and safety no matter where i live. I chose this community as a a safe community to raise my family, with high quality schools and a safe environment. No government action should take this away from me nor anyone else. When a government fails to protect its citizens it loses all creditability with its people and its right to govern.
Ralebird July 21, 2012 at 04:06 AM
The government is not there to protect you from yourself and your own choices. The airport was built in 1942; when did you buy your house?
pw July 21, 2012 at 02:43 PM
my home is zoned for residential single family use only. It is illegal to use for any nonconforming use. The government projects should respect rights of people to live in safety. Why bother having zoning if there is no protection? You have no right to trample other people as you please. This is a civilized society based on laws with equal protection for all. Where ever you live, government can build a jetport and fly over your home endangering your life and safety as well as your neighbors. I am just asking for equal protection that you enjoy from dangerous government projects being forced upon you and everyone else.
Ralebird July 21, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Wonderful, your property is residential. That means you cannot have an airport in your backyard or a gas station out front. That does not mean there can not be one directly next door or a half mile away if that is what the zoning is there. Your not answering when you bought that house indicates it was after 1942, probably well after 1942. Grow up, take some responsibility for your own decisions and stop looking to the government to run our lives.
Rich C July 22, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I am not sure how many editions of Patch feature this discussion? Perhaps the Patch organization can partner with airport and town officials to solicit even more input from residents in all of Suffolk and Nassau counties. Yes it would be a non-scientific poll, but the comments will be enlightening for sure. The airport is a regional asset and future development plans need to reflect the needs of the entire region. I don't disregard the legitimate concerns of local residents such as pw. But their comments carry equal weight to everyone elses, not more weight in my opinion. This airport creates direct and indirect jobs - and the time is right to push for a big expansion. I am sure that support for expanding the facility will be overwhelmingly positive if measured oer the entire region.
pw July 23, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Islip is relying on government money and projects and promises of economic prosperity and jobs from the FAA to expand Macarthur to serve the needs of the NYC metropolitan area. FAA money comes with severe restrictions that limit the money generated to be spent only on the airport . History has shown that it is a mistake to rely on jobs from the bust and boom aviation industry, which will lead to massive unemployment and community destruction. Meaningless opinion polls simplifying complex issues with a yes or no question are no solution to our economic and transportation woes. Do not ask us to sacrifice our most precious health safety and homes to solve NYC metro transportation and employment woes. Islip's bad planning has made Macarthur airport an unsuitable and dangerous place to put a jetport. Aircraft passing over residential homes at roof top level is unacceptable regardless of the economic benefits promised. Islip and Long Island must concentrate on building strong and safe communities and low taxes to attract people and jobs to our towns. Solving everyday transportation needs of moving goods and services around and getting to our jobs needs to be the priority to bring back a prosperous and healthful future.
pw July 23, 2012 at 11:57 PM
In the last fifty years, I have witnessed the destruction of homes and communities by airports in the NYC metropolitan area. These communities were promised prosperity, but they became drug infested murder capitals of the world. I have seen Islip town's reliance on government institutions, which were setup to relieve the NYC metropolitan area of the homeless mental health patients at Edgewood, Central Islip and Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital, which were closed and ended in devastating Islip's communities. Again, Islip is relying on government money and projects and promises of economic prosperity and jobs from the FAA to expand Macarthur to serve the needs of the NYC metropolitan area. Do not repeat these mistakes in Islip
Ralebird July 24, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Skip the empty rhetoric. Name one NYC area community that has become a "drug infested murder capital(s) of the world" because of an airport. If you moved in near an airport and you don't like to hear airplanes - MOVE! It is your problem, not government's.
pw July 24, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Jamaica queens
Ralebird July 24, 2012 at 05:19 PM
You are saying that building Idlewild airport, now JFK, caused Jamaica to be a drug infested murder capital of the world? You certainly are entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts.
pw July 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
yes i witnessed the once prosperous communities in jamaica that were literally decimated when the residents were forced to flee their homes in a mass migration of both business and residence when JFK was expanded into a jet port in the 1960's. I witnessed the condemnation of hundreds of homes and vacant land taken off the tax rolls to make way for macarthur expansion. This is not rhetoric it is historical facts. This left many more thousands of homes with increased intolerable noise and danger. All vestiges of these homes were quickly erased to coverup this evil deed. People were literally carried out of their homes. These residences were their before the airport as many homes are today
Ralebird July 24, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Hogwash. You still haven't said why you moved into an area near an airport and now complain about the planes. Do you not think it is the epitome of selfishness to want the entire town to change because you are unhappy with a decision you made? If your current living arrangement is so distasteful to you, why not just solve your own self-created problem and move?
pw July 25, 2012 at 03:49 AM
if you want an expanded airport move to jamaica and stop belly aching.I don't want to live there
Ralebird July 25, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Move.
Argile July 25, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I hope JetBlue comes to ISP. Getting a little sick and tired of all the Southwest fakers that line up in wheelchairs to get on the plane first then when the flight is over they practically run out of the airport. BTW, I enjoy when I'm in my pool and the planes fly low and slow over my house on occasion.
pw July 26, 2012 at 08:24 PM
beware of the fuel dumps and assorted falling debris that will make your backyard unusable and pollute your pool
pw July 26, 2012 at 08:36 PM
I care about your safety and lives of your family. You should care your neighbors and not advocate an expanded airport. You will regret what you ask foe
GLENN July 29, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Ban the TSA gropers, don't add more!
Argile July 30, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Unless you have data showing how often these occurrences happen it's just scare tactic nonsense. Been living in my home for 2 decades and have yet have ANY of those things happen including the neighbors around me.
Steve January 16, 2013 at 09:27 PM
I was at a LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) breakfast where the new commissioner, Bob Schaeffer spoke last Friday. I did not know his predecessor, so it would be unfair to comment about her, but this man is very sharp and shared some incredibly creative plans for returning this airport back to where it should be and beyond where it has ever been. These plans and ideas were both traditional and non-traditional from my perspective. One of the topics mentioned at this breakfast was that there are active discussions going on with other carriers to come to ISP and that it is a near certainty that some will join. In the same discussion, there were questions asked regarding the "long awaited decision for JetBlue to begin service from this location. He did dispell the rumor that this was "scheduled to happen and was delayed". It was apparently never scheduled to happen through 2013, but acknowledged that in 2014, discussion to bring this carrier to ISP will absolutely take place. We will see and hope that those negotiations are successful. I honestly believe that Bob's goals will end up giving long island's economy a much needed shot in the arm. I look forward to the successful execution of his plans...we will all benefit.

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