Sen. Chuck Schumer is pushing for Long Island MacArthur to become an international airport, urging the head of Customs and Border Protection to work with airport officials to staff a federal inspection station there.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske to collaborate with airport and Town of Islip officials as they prepare to build a $10 million customs facility that would enable struggling MacArthur, which has lost half its daily flights since 2007, to lure airlines offering international service.
“I strongly believe that making MacArthur an international airport would increase activity at the airport and bolster economic activity in the region,” Schumer wrote Thursday in a letter to Kerlikowske, which he provided to Newsday.
Schumer and local politicians have long touted the airport’s potential for handling international flights for the region. The senator has pushed for a customs facility at MacArthur for years, especially in the wake of dwindling air service there.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pledged $6 million in the state budget toward the customs facility. The state Regional Economic Development Council is chipping in $3 million, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has promised $1 million for the project. No construction timeline has been set.
The Town of Islip, which owns and operates the airport, will invest an additional $1 million through its Industrial Development Agency to create a temporary customs station, which could be operational as early as this summer, officials said.
“It seems that from the federal government on down, there is a groundswell of support for our efforts to restore and enhance the level of service at Long Island MacArthur Airport that will serve our residents in and around the region well, ” Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement.
While funding has been secured to build the permanent customs facility, Schumer said close collaboration with Customs is needed to make sure the building meets the agency’s requirements.
Schumer also asked for Kerlikowske’s help in designating MacArthur as a “User Fee Airport,” a classification for small airports approved to receive customs officers and services for processing flights entering the United States in exchange for a fee.
Used at airports where the volume of international flights is light, that designation requires the airport operator to reimburse Customs for all costs associated with running the facility, including staffing at least one full-time inspector. That means Islip would be on the hook for at least $140,874 in staffing costs the first year and $123,438 in subsequent years, according to the agency.
Customs can’t agree to staff an airport until the facility is 85 percent complete and proven to be in line with Customs’ specifications, Schumer noted in his letter.
But that “shouldn’t prevent CBP from engaging in an active and open dialogue with the community as they move toward that milestone,” the senator wrote.
Collaboration from Customs will signal to airlines that the agency is serious about MacArthur’s potential to expand into an international airport, Schumer added, “and as a result will help jump-start efforts by MacArthur to bring new flights to the airport.”
MacArthur has lost at least $5.5 million since 2010, and currently operates 15 flights a day via two carriers, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.
A Customs spokesman said the agency is reviewing Schumer’s letter.