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MacArthur gets grant to study LI air travel patterns

Long Island MacArthur Airport, which recruited and then lost the discount carrier Spirit Airlines within 90 days last year, has received a $150,000 federal grant to study the travel patterns of Long Islanders in a bid to attract new airlines, officials said Monday.

The study will help airport officials understand how New York area airports compete for passengers, and identify the preferred destinations of Long Island residents, airport commissioner Teresa Rizzuto said.

"Where do you want to go?" she said. "We need to find this out. From there, we'll identify the carriers who will best fit our market here." By the end of May, she said, "I really want to know the direction that this airport needs to go in."

The study, to be conducted by an aviation consulting firm, SH & E, and Woodbury-based Tri-State Planning and Engineering, will offer a "road map" for growth at the airport, Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan said. The Islip Town board, which oversees the airport, is expected to vote on the contract Tuesday.

The study will examine why Nassau and Suffolk residents choose Kennedy, LaGuardia or Newark in cases where MacArthur offers a flight to the same destination.

Spirit Airlines' inaugural Long Island flight landed at MacArthur May 1. By July 31, the airline had pulled out, citing the spike in fuel costs. Delta also discontinued service at MacArthur last year. That left Southwest and US Airways.

"MacArthur is an economic engine for Long Island," said Sen. Charles Schumer, who announced the grant. "It's time to figure out how to strengthen MacArthur - increase jobs, increase flights, increase businesses."

Rizzuto said acquaintances in the industry have told her airlines will not want to shift service to MacArthur until the economy changes. "And I can respect that," she said. "I'm going to be ready, though."

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