Two of the top officials at Long Island MacArthur Airport stepped down Friday as the struggling airport tries to reverse years of falling revenue, lost airlines and flights.
Robert Schaefer, the airport’s commissioner for the past 3 ½ years, said he and one of his deputies, Allan Smith, gave two-week notices earlier this month to officials at Islip Town, which owns and operates the facility.
“It just hit me that it was time to go,” Schaefer, 64, of Oakdale, said in a phone interview. “It was time to retire.”
Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter thanked Schaefer for his “dedication and commitment” to the airport and congratulated him on his retirement.
“He and his wife have been looking forward to beginning a new chapter in their lives and we wish them all the best,” she said.
Carpenter added: “There’s a renewed sense of excitement at Long Island MacArthur Airport and we’re looking ahead to the future.”
Smith declined to comment.
By most measures, the airport is at a critical point. It has lost half of its daily flights since 2007 and at least $5.5 million in revenue since 2010. Schaefer said he has worked to cut losses at the airport, which were at $2 million a year in 2012 when he first became commissioner. He said he has brought losses down each year. He estimated that losses amounted to approximately $132,000 in 2015.
“I think I have everything set up,” Schaefer said for future operations. “People told me, ‘You’ll never get customs, you’ll never get international flights.’ And that’s going to happen now. I have that all set up so I was comfortable with leaving.”
This week, Newsday reported that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he is pushing for the Ronkonkoma airport to host international flights as the town is set to build a $10 million customs facility at the site.
Schumer wrote a letter to the head of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, urging the agency to staff a federal inspection station at MacArthur, a move that he says would bolster economic activity in the region. Only two carriers, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, currently operate flights out of the hub.
Schaefer said he believes the airport’s future, which he said will now be under the direction of Rob Schneider, his other deputy commissioner and director of operations, is secure. Schneider will take his post as commissioner on Monday, Schaefer said.
“I left things rolling and I’m still helping out,” Schaefer said. “I spent a lot of years in the industry and I know a lot of airlines. I’m helping Rob with that. I’m passing my connections on.”
Schaefer spent a total of seven years with the town, the first 3 1/2 as a deputy commissioner at the airport, while Smith started in early 2015. Schaefer says he now plans to spend more time with his wife and other family members in Orlando, Florida, where he has a condo.
“The airport is a good place and I’m going to miss the people,” Schaefer said. “It was just time.”