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MacArthur Airport gets town budget boost in anticipation of increased revenue

Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, left, and MacArthur

Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, left, and MacArthur Airport Commissioner Robert Schaefer, right, stand outside the main terminal on the airport grounds in Ronkonkoma, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Islip Town officials have budgeted more money for Long Island MacArthur Airport next year in anticipation of increased revenue from the town-owned facility for 2015.

"I think this is going to be the last year we're in the red," said airport Commissioner Robert Schaefer, citing lower expenses and fee increases at the facility.

The preliminary $130 million town budget released last week includes $15.1 million in projected revenue from the Ronkonkoma airport, up $700,000 from this year. Town officials said they anticipate the airport will generate about $13 million this year -- about $1.5 million less than the town had hoped for this year, said Comptroller Joe Ludwig.

Despite the projected loss, the airport's current $14.5 million budget is balanced, Ludwig said, and any deficits will be uncovered in next year's audit. The 2015 budget projection of $15.1 million relies on $550,000 in land sales and $2.3 million in fee increases. The airport is self-sufficient -- revenue pays for expenses.

PenAir and Allegiant Air stopped flying out of MacArthur this year, leaving US Airways and Southwest Airlines.

The new budget reflects a leaner airport operation, Schaefer said. "Through attrition and a few layoffs of part-timers, our payroll is down," he said. Payroll is expected to decrease by $132,283 in 2015.

The town has also found potential revenue from some government tenants who don't pay rent for facilities, according to Councilman John Cochrane.

"Next year we're probably going to get more income because we have another hangar that we have no rental from. We should be getting $200,000 rental for that . . . from the Suffolk County police. They have a helicopter hangar and they're not paying us rent," Cochrane said.

However, a spokeswoman for Suffolk police said its lease for Special Patrol Bureau buildings at the airport was valid until 2027, under terms that waive rent.

Schaefer said the airport also raised landing fees to match those of nearby airports. "If you're landing here, you're paying. That's fair," he said.

The rising cost of operations has hurt more than the loss of flights, Ludwig said.

"The cost and the expenses of running the airport has gone up, more so than the fees from the passengers," he said.

Airport expert Seth Young of Ohio State University's Center for Aviation Studies said smaller airports such as MacArthur are looking for profits outside of airline service.

"Diversification of the revenue stream is the long-term strategy of these airports, in an effort to maintain viable revenue in light of volatile airline service," he said.

Young noted the other New York airports are "at capacity," which could help MacArthur. "Any service that wants to serve Long Island needs to go to Islip, because there's no room at the inn in New York City," he said.

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