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MacArthur Airport’s distance from NYC limits its growth: Planner

Passengers at Long Island MacArthur Airport on July

Passengers at Long Island MacArthur Airport on July 18, 2017. The facility in Ronkonkoma merits improvements, a regional planner says, but it can't really compete with JFK and LaGuardia. Credit: James Carbone

Long Island MacArthur Airport will never rival JFK and LaGuardia airports because it’s too far from populous New York City and passengers don’t want to travel long distances to catch a flight, a top planner said.

The Ronkonkoma airport, which is owned by Islip Town but not funded with taxpayer dollars, merits further improvements to accommodate more passengers in the next 25 years, said Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, an influential think tank in Manhattan.

However, “air travelers overvalue their time on the ground,” he told a Melville meeting of the Long Island Association business group on Wednesday. “They put a premium on access to the airports and . . . while MacArthur can play an important regional role, it is too far from the mass of population of this region [in New York City] to ever become a fourth regional airport” alongside JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.

The RPA advocates for housing, transportation and big building projects to improve the quality of life in the tristate area. Its planning proposals have contributed to improvements to the Long Island Rail Road and more affordable housing, among others.

Wright also predicted Wednesday that MacArthur, along with Stewart International Airport in the Hudson Valley and Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey, will benefit from the eventual closure of Teterboro Airport in Bergan County, New Jersey, due to river flooding.

MacArthur “certainly has an opportunity, . . . But I don’t think it’s ever going to supplant Kennedy, because Kennedy is so close to so many people,” he told the LIA audience of about 70 people.

Islip Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken agreed, saying her goal is to make MacArthur the Island’s airport by increasing the number of residents who take flights from there.

“I don’t think he [Wright] is off base,” she said in an interview. “His point of view is very realistic.”

LaRose-Arken said the airport is in the second year of an advertising campaign aimed at boosting usage by Nassau County residents. A survey conducted in late 2016 found 96 percent of MacArthur’s travelers come from Suffolk County.

She said, “We’re taking baby steps, trying to get people from Farmingdale, Oyster Bay and Hicksville to think about flying out of MacArthur. We’re hoping to convert people to using this airport.”

Separately, RPA’s Wright said JFK needs a fifth runaway.

“We think that’s absolutely necessary to the growth we are going to see” in the New York area over the next 25 years, he said. “If we have a hard cap on the number of people who can fly in and out of our region, that’s a hard cap on the economic potential of our region.”

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