Long Island MacArthur Airport has won a half-million-dollar grant for road infrastructure, state funding that town officials hope will entice federal officials to build a new aircraft control tower at the Ronkonkoma hub.

The $500,000 grant from Empire State Development, part of $59.7 million in state aid to support building projects and business expansions on Long Island, would help construct a four-lane access road of about 9,000 linear feet to accommodate a modernized air traffic control system and tower on 60 acres at the airport.

Town officials had asked the state to cover the estimated $4.7 million cost of the project, but said they were pleased with what they received.

"We are grateful for the funding granted to Islip for this significant project," said Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci.

MacArthur is one of several sites in the state vying for the Federal Aviation Administration's new $95 million Integrated Control Facility, which will house hundreds of air traffic controllers as part of NextGen, the agency's nationwide program to update to satellite navigation for commercial flights instead of the ground-based radar system used since the 1950s.

The grant is the airport's first pledge of outside funding for the not-yet-approved project, and town officials say they plan to apply for additional state and federal aid. "The FAA is being offered free land within feet of their existing facility, and we are grateful that the State of New York has recognized this very project as a critical component to Long Island's economic development," Croci said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The new center will displace about 600 employees at two facilities in Westbury and at MacArthur in Ronkonkoma, and Long Island could lose about 950 aviation jobs if the facility moves off the Island. Long Island's congressional delegation has lobbied to locate the center at MacArthur.

FAA officials said in a statement that no decision has been made on the center's location. "As we plan for the new facility, the agency is engaging with stakeholders including labor organizations to establish metrics and other criteria," said the statement. "While the FAA has completed some preliminary work for the new facility, a final location has not been determined."

MacArthur Airport commissioner Robert Schaefer said he's awaiting word from the FAA but voiced optimism. "Everybody that works at the facility now -- all those people don't have to move -- that's as good a reason to keep it with us," Schaefer said. "I think we are an obvious site."

With Keith Herbert