Sen. Charles Schumer kicked off a public campaign Monday to make Long Island MacArthur an international airport, saying two airlines had expressed interest in flying there if U.S. Customs and Border Protection approved a customs facility being built there.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the Ronkonkoma airport an important economic engine that Long Islanders like to use because of its convenience and small-hub feel. He said he's working closely with Customs and Border Protection to have a facility approved in "months, not years."
Citing the Islip Town-run airport's dramatic loss of daily domestic flights since 2007 due to industry and economic factors, Schumer said the customs facility "would be a real shot in the arm" for MacArthur. He said this effort is distinct because airlines Interjet and FlyA have expressed interest in coming to MacArthur if a customs facility is built.
Interjet is a Mexico-based low-cost airline, and FlyA is expected to launch sometime this year as a European low-cost, long-haul service, published reports say.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in a statement the agency, a bureau within the Department of Homeland Security, is "currently reviewing the requirements necessary to pursue pre-clearance flights at MacArthur Airport, and will continue to work closely with affected stakeholders moving forward."
But industry experts Monday doubted the overextended federal agency would add a customs gate at MacArthur.
"Customs and Border Protection is really stretched and they're not going any place unless there's really a need for it. So he [Schumer] needs to prove there's a need," said Michael Boyd, chairman of aviation consultant Boyd Group International in Colorado.
He said the addition of a customs gate would not attract new airlines, and could cost several million dollars to build. "This will create no new flights. Having that there -- no one is going to fly the international market out of MacArthur Airport" because of its proximity to Kennedy Airport.
Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co., an aviation consulting group in Port Washington, said the list of airports vying for federal inspection facilities is long, and the infrastructure requirements could be costly.
"I'm sure at this point MacArthur has facilities viable that could be converted to this pursuit, but you're talking significant costs to convert them because passengers and baggage have to be held separate from domestic passengers," Mann said. "And there are other communities asking for this stuff, it's not as if MacArthur is asking for it in a vacuum."
Mann called the notion that an international customs gate would bring new airlines a " 'Field of Dreams' kind of premise: Build it and they will come," he said. "They can go to Kennedy today."
Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the cost of retrofitting MacArthur to accommodate customs would be paid for through the airport's passenger facility charge, a $4.50 fee airlines collect for every passenger who boards a plane at the airport. "Regardless of whether or not we get this capability at the airport, we're still going to add flights, still going to add carriers, and MacArthur airport will be on firm and solid ground again," Croci said.