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JetBlue unlikely to fly MacArthur soon

The new JetBlue terminal at Kennedy Airport opened

The new JetBlue terminal at Kennedy Airport opened in October 2008. The Forest Hills-based airline is expected to announce that it will keep its headquarters in New York City. (Oct. 2008) Photo Credit: Getty Images

JetBlue Airways, which has considered expanding to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, won't be flying out of the Suffolk County airport this year, the company's chief executive said Wednesday.

"I don't believe we'll do it in 2012, and even 2013 is difficult," David Barger, JetBlue president and chief executive, told Newsday.

He didn't rule out the possibility of flights in the future. Making a commitment to fly JetBlue planes in and out of MacArthur isn't a matter of "if, but of when," Barger said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company's new corporate headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

JetBlue's recent acquisition of eight pairs of flight slots -- scheduled take off or landing times -- at LaGuardia Airport and eight at Reagan National Airport in Northern Virginia, means the number of airplanes available to add more routes and more airports has dwindled, he said.

JetBlue won an auction for the slots at LaGuardia and Reagan National in December. Barger said the price tag was $72 million.

Barger toured MacArthur in January with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). During the three-hour event, Barger viewed the airfield and gates and stopped to chat with travelers. MacArthur officials, with Schumer's assistance, have been trying to woo the discount-fare carrier.

"I talk to Mr. Barger about MacArthur regularly," Schumer said Wednesday. "Their interest in MacArthur remains as keen as ever, but they are not willing to set any date. I am going to keep working to get them to set up shop at Islip in 2013, which they have not ruled out."

The Town of Islip operates the Ronkonkoma airport -- which has two commercial airlines, Southwest and US Airways -- and handled 1.5 million passengers last year.

Town Supervisor Tom Croci took Barger's comments in stride Wednesday.

"It's not a surprise -- it wasn't going to happen this year," Croci said. "This was always a conversation about a long-term relationship. I eventually think this relationship will bear fruit."

JetBlue Wednesday took the wraps off its new headquarters, which will accommodate nearly 1,000 JetBlue workers.

The airline's move to Long Island City from Forest Hills, Queens, follows a variety of neighborhood improvements. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the ribbon cutting, Wednesday marked completion of $45 million in roadway, pedestrian and bicycle lane improvements, and sprucing up 1.5 acres of open space around Queens Plaza. About $25 million in city funds were used and $20 million in federal funding.

"JetBlue has played a major role in making New York City the nation's number one travel destination," Bloomberg said.

With Sarah Crichton

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