Analysis, discussion and opinions by members of Newsday's editorial board.
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MacArthur Airport's fate now in new supervisor's hands
There’s no doubt that Islip Supervisor Tom Croci has the right to choose the person he wants to run Long Island MacArthur Airport, a hugely important asset for the town. But there’s also no doubt that he has taken a significant risk in dismissing the airport’s commissioner, Teresa Rizzuto. Croci now owns the future of the airport completely, for better or worse.
Though he didn’t quite come right out and say it, Croci’s decision to dismiss Rizzuto and go in “a different direction” implies that he blames her for declining passenger use. A Newsday study in April showed that 2011 was the fourth straight year of lower arrival and departure numbers. But Croci has chosen the wrong R-word to explain that decline. It’s not Rizzuto, but recession—and all the macroeconomic problems that it brings.
Croci is right to focus tightly on the airport. It’s tremendously important as an economic driver for the town and the region. MacArthur has a major advantage over Kennedy and LaGuardia: convenience of access for drivers. But it also has disadvantages: It doesn’t offer enough nonstop flights, and the ticket prices aren’t always competitive with LGA and JFK. What it desperately needs is another airline, especially one willing to invest in a terminal where the existing Southwest Terminal ought to have been in the first place: near the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma station, on the airport’s northern edge.
Croci knows that, and he plans to work on it. But Rizzuto has been working on it, building up the visibility of MacArthur in the minds of airline executives and working to persuade them that flying out of MacArthur would be good business for them. That’s not an easy sell. Airlines have thin profit margins, and they won’t move to Islip unless it’s going to help their bottom line. The escalating price of oil has made it even tougher for them to meet their profit goals and made them more risk-averse.
In other words, this is not an easy time to get an airline to sign on the dotted line and commit to MacArthur. And now, airline executives who have been dealing with Rizzuto will have to develop a relationship with a new airport commissioner. For the sake of the town and the region, we wish Croci luck in that pursuit. But if any airline signs with MacArthur in the next year or so, the chances are good that the groundwork for that deal was laid by the commissioner he’s firing.