Standing near PenAir's new gate at Long Island MacArthur Airport early Thursday, Islip Supervisor Tom Croci beamed like a light on a plane jetting through the night sky.
Minutes before one of the Alaska-based airline's turboprops landed, Croci spoke to a crowd of politicians, local media, and civic and business leaders who gathered to commemorate PenAir's inaugural flight from the Ronkonkoma airport.
"I'm very proud to be standing here today to welcome a new member to the MacArthur family, and the return of direct nonstop service from Boston," Croci said.
Croci announced in March that PenAir would join the town-run airport with two daily flights each way to and from Boston's Logan International Airport, bringing the number of carriers at MacArthur to three and the number of daily flights to 21.
Between 2007 and 2012, the airport lost 46 percent of its daily flights, according to a recent report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Center for Air Transport, the steepest decline of any airport the Federal Aviation Administration designates as a "small hub."
"It's a long time coming, but we've stopped the trend at MacArthur of losing, and we're gaining now," Croci said, recalling the 18-month effort of "blood, sweat and tears, I can say, that it has taken to get to this moment."
Dave Hall, PenAir's chief operating officer, said the airline hopes to add a midday flight from MacArthur to Boston based on the traffic the new flights generate. "This is like giving birth to the elephant," Hall quipped during the news conference. "It took us a long time to get to this point today, but we're really glad we're here."
So is Susann Crossan of Shoreham. She and her husband celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary by boarding the first flight to Boston. "I think it's a great airport here, and we need that type of service for the East End traveler, instead of traveling into the city to get on a flight," Crossan said.
PenAir could add more legs. Hall named Albany as a possible future destination from Islip, "because of the traffic back and forth to the capital," he said. "It would be tough because you're competing with the car and the train, but if we do it right and price it right, that might be a good option."