Just off the eastern edge of Long Island MacArthur Airport, a small private hangar is at the center of a legal dispute with the Town of Islip, which owns the airport, over a hike in taxiway fees. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Over the past 20 years, Dr. David Edelson has flown about 100 mercy missions, from transporting toddlers with tumors to appointments to flying terminally ill patients to be with family before they die.

Those trips through Angel Flight, a nonprofit that arranges free transportation for patients in need, might end, he said, if he can no longer store his small aircraft in a private hangar adjacent to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

Fred Coste of Holbrook, who owns the hangar through his company November Romeo LLC, has sued the Town of Islip after the town suddenly raised fees to access the airport — from $1,795 to $29,514 per month, a more than 1,500% increase, court records show.

The fee hike is raising concerns among pilots who use...

The fee hike is raising concerns among pilots who use the hangar and taxiway — including Andreas Niens, Long Island group commander for the Civil Air Patrol. Credit: James Carbone

The fee hike is raising concerns among pilots who use the hangar and taxiway — including the congressionally chartered Civil Air Patrol, which accesses MacArthur through the Holbrook property — that they may be displaced, potentially forcing several to sell their planes amid a national shortage of hangar space. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The owner of a private hangar in Holbrook has sued the Town of Islip for hiking the monthly fee to access Long Island MacArthur Airport more than 1,500%. 
  • Pilots who use the hangar and taxiway connecting the property to MacArthur, including the Civil Air Patrol, are concerned that the fee hike could put the hangar out of business — and displace their planes. 
  • Citing a national shortage of hangar space, many tenants have said losing their spot in Holbrook could force them to sell their aircraft. 

The suit says an agreement allowing indefinite access to the airport was signed by an airport manager and the hangar’s previous owner in 1990, and Coste has requested a more formal agreement since.

The suit also says the town threatened to barricade access to the taxiway, which tenants at the hangar have used for 53 years. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Central Islip.

Court records filed by Islip say Coste has no legal right to access the airport and call the suit a "negotiation tactic" to lower fees, despite town obligations to the federal government that "severely limit" negotiating flexibility.

A spokeswoman for the Town of Islip, which owns MacArthur Airport, declined to comment, citing pending litigation. 

Coste fears the fee dispute could shutter the facility. 

“I would have to double the rent, which would mean that all of these people would have to relocate, sell their aircraft and it would be gone,” he said. “I've been flying since I was 17 years old. I'm 72 now, and for me to walk away from aviation like that, it's not in my blood.”

Tenants pay $800 per month for each of the 34 units at the hangar, said Coste, who owns a Holbrook insurance agency, adding he doesn't take a salary from the hangar. 

The suit states that, with a lease that charges 62 cents per square foot, Coste already pays more than five comparable leases in the region, which average around 44 cents per square foot.

In an amended complaint filed in May, Coste said the town also demanded he rebuild the taxiway connecting his property to the airport at an estimated cost of $150,000, rejecting an alternate proposal to repave the road for about $60,000.

Edelson, 65, who has been at the hangar for more than 30 years, said the dispute is making it difficult for him to commit to future Angel flights.

“This is one of the few remaining privately owned facilities that is easily accessible and affordable,” said Edelson of Hampton Bays, one of 48 pilots who uses the facility.

At a November Islip Town Board meeting, several of Coste’s tenants appealed to the board to resolve the conflict. Among them was Peter Lombardo, 67, of Deer Park, who flies for the U.S. Coast Guard and Pilot Airlift Services, which arranges transportation for patients in need.

“Many of my missions with the Coast Guard and PALS don’t come with much warning or lead time. I’ve been called by both at 6 a.m. and been up in the air at 6:30 a.m.,” he said.

Noting that his plane’s engine is sensitive to the cold, he added, “If I no longer have access to my heated hangar at November Romeo, I will be forced to relocate my plane to an outside storage area … without the convenience of electricity to keep my plane ready to go at a moment’s notice. I ask the town board to consider the ramifications of shutting down the access to [the taxiway]." 

Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter thanked the speakers, but otherwise did not respond to their remarks.

Coste said Thursday he believes the town is trying to purchase the property for "almost nothing."

In the suit, he said the town indicated it may be interested in purchasing the property, but for no more than $2 million.

The town could try to "take the property through legal means," such as eminent domain or condemnation proceedings, but instead "is trying to pressure [Coste] out," said Cory Morris, Coste's attorney.

Coste, who hopes to retire, said he tentatively sold the property to the Hicksville-based investment group Good Deeds Development for $4.25 million in 2018, contingent on the property continuing as an aviation facility. But the deal can’t close without a new access agreement from the town.

Lt. Col. Andrew Balistreri, a deputy commander with Long Island’s Civil Air Patrol, said losing access to the taxiway through Coste's hangar would potentially displace the civilian auxiliary.

“We’d become a victim of circumstance if the town, as they’re threatening, closes down the taxiway,” he said. “Normally, our aircraft is stored here, and we do search and rescue and other operations for the whole Northeast region out of this airport.”

Other tenants similarly said they’d be displaced should the hangar shut down and possibly be forced to sell their planes.

Randy Sachs, who has been flying for 15 years, said he uses his plane to transport rescue animals to no-kill shelters and likes to fly recreationally twice per week. Worried about the future of the Holbrook hangar, he put his name down for a facility in Pennsylvania, but the waiting list is six years, he said.

“My entire life, I’ve had a backup plan,” said Sachs, 67, of Huntington. “In this particular case, I have zero backup plan. I don't know what to do with my airplane if they put that fence up.”

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an aviation group that represents more than 300,000 members across the country, has urged the town in a letter to "act swiftly" to come to an agreement, pointing to a 2021 AOPA survey that found 71% of airports have a waiting list for their hangars, demonstrating a "severe" shortage of aircraft hangar storage across the country. 

Coste purchased the 4.77-acre Holbrook facility to the southeast of MacArthur Airport in 2003. His tenants account for 21% of MacArthur’s light general aviation aircraft activity, according to the AOPA letter.

Since 1969, owners of light aircraft, or planes that weigh less than 12,500 pounds, have accessed the airport through a taxiway connecting the property to MacArthur.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates civil aviation, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

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