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Brookhaven looks to privatize Calabro Airport

Planes at their tie-down pads and the paved

Planes at their tie-down pads and the paved taxi way. Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko is looking to privatize Brookhaven Calabro Airport in order to save money. (April 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko takes a clinical approach to the town's monetary struggles with Brookhaven Calabro Airport -- which is projected to lose a soaring amount in 2012.

"It's one thing to know how to run an airport. It's another thing to know how to make money running an airport," Lesko said.

With Lesko's analysis in mind, the town -- faced with a dim financial picture across the board -- is looking to get out of the airport business.

Town officials will likely issue a request for a private operator to take over management of the 600-acre airport in Shirley within a month, Lesko said.

Lesko said the move is necessary, as the projected $303,000 deficit at the facility is actually an improvement for an airport that often loses more than a half-million dollars per year.

But the proposal, which is subject to town board approval, has drawn mixed reviews from airport users -- who fear higher usage fees -- and civic groups who question the wisdom of relinquishing management of a public asset.

"It would invariably increase our costs," said Rudy Suehs Jr., an organizer with the Long Island Soaring Association, a glider club that uses the airport as its home base. "And we have a wonderful relationship with town employees."

The airport was built during World War II to support the U.S. Army Air Corps. The town took it over in the early 1960s, and it now handles more than 135,000 takeoffs and landings per year, officials said.

The airport houses more than 200 aircraft, mostly small prop planes such as Cessnas. Three operators -- Brookfield Aviation, Mid-Island Air Service and Northeast Air Park -- offer services such as hangar space and fuel at the airport.

The three operators would all be considered as managers for the airport, Lesko said. Attempts to reach spokesmen for Brookfield and Mid-Island were not successful, while a Northeast Air Park representative declined to comment.

The move to privatize Calabro is the latest in a series of attempts by Brookhaven to purge money drains. The town needs to cut costs to make budget in coming years because of declining revenue streams, such as mortgage tax receipts, officials have said.

Brookhaven agreed last month to allow Ronkonkoma radio group JVC Broadcasting to manage Brookhaven Amphitheater in Farmingville, which has lost $1.5 million in the last four years. The town could also look to privatize its marinas this year, officials said.

"It would mean we're essentially turning the keys over" on public facilities, Lesko said.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Daniel Panico, who represents Shirley, agreed the town needs to cut costs. But he said Brookhaven should try to turn Calabro into a moneymaker before it lets a private firm take over the airport.

Panico cited the fact that Calabro loses less money now than it did a few years ago.

"The airport in the past was poorly run, but we are turning things around," Panico said.


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