Long Island MacArthur Airport has been poised many times for takeoff, only to see those hopes dashed by turbulence ranging from a bad economy to bad management.
This time feels different.
And it feels different for the right reasons. MacArthur’s recent success is measured best not by splashy announcements, though it has had some of those, but by the steady grind of incremental progress, mostly getting its finances in order. The work is not glamorous. It’s not attention-grabbing. But it’s essential and was long overdue. And it set the stage for Frontier Airlines to decide to launch nonstop service over several months to 10 cities, including Chicago, Atlanta and New Orleans.
That would not have happened if MacArthur hadn’t trimmed its expenses, increased its revenue, revamped its accounting practices and fixed an airline’s cost of flying out of the Islip Town-owned airport at a very competitive $10 per passenger. That’s a testament to the professional leadership now in place at MacArthur. To repeat:
There is no substitute for competent and experienced professionals, a lesson that would well serve many municipalities.
Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken, who had more than two decades of aviation experience before being hired 18 months ago, has made a series of smart decisions, from renegotiating leases for MacArthur tenants to eliminating unnecessary overtime and not filling some vacant positions. The airport is on track to post a $2 million surplus this year and nearly double its number of passengers from 1.2 million last year to 2.3 million when all of Frontier’s new flights are in service.
LaRose-Arken and Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who’s been indefatigable in her advocacy for the airport, know the path ahead isn’t guaranteed to be smooth. Pitfalls always lurk. National Airlines’ recent plans to fly to Puerto Rico never got off the ground. Elite Airways has yet to return from a hiatus it said in April would last until July.
But LaRose-Arken and Carpenter are wisely laying more groundwork to mitigate such risks. Marketing MacArthur to Nassau County residents, local businesses and, later, to cities elsewhere should increase passenger counts. Construction plans include updating 1960s-era infrastructure in the central terminal, rehabbing the main runway, and a $3.2 million remodeling of its ground transportation operation to centralize rental cars, taxis and courtesy vans. Local business and political leaders should work to ensure the airport gets the $760,000 it’s requested for the facility from the state’s Regional Economic Development Council competition.
The biggest game-changer could be the customs facility slated to break ground in 2019. Primary tenants Southwest and Frontier have international divisions, so expansion to Mexico and the Caribbean is a not-so-distant possibility. And Suffolk is pushing for a fast link to the airport from the Ronkonkoma train station as part of its proposed redevelopment on the south side of the station, on the airport’s north border.
Take a good look. It’s not hard to see the pieces of what has been one of Long Island’s more intractable problems coming together. MacArthur, finally cleared for takeoff.