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OPINION: New name would help MacArthur Airport take off

Michael Polimeni, a member of the Association for a Better Long Island, is chief operating officer of Polimeni International in Garden City.

Chicago has O'Hare Airport. It was named after a Chicagoan who fought off a squadron of Japanese bombers looking to torpedo American carriers during World War II.

Boston has Logan Airport. It was named after Edward Logan, a volunteer militia member from Beantown who fought in the Spanish-American War.

Santa Anna, Calif., has John Wayne Airport named after, well, John Wayne. His all-American Hollywood portrayals made him a much celebrated citizen of Orange County, and aviation aficionados say it's the only airport in the country named after an entertainer.

So why is Long Island's only commercial airport named after a general who, while a brilliant strategist and military leader, had essentially nothing to do with Long Island? In fact, as near as any casual historian can tell, Douglas MacArthur never spent any significant time on Long Island, expressed an interest in the place, or even much tipped his hat as he traveled north to his beloved West Point. No surprise that the effort of some well meaning folks to get a statue modeled, bronzed and placed in the airport's lobby is still looking for dollars. There is just no connection to the guy.

If Long Island wanted to name Islip Town's state-of-the-art airport after a personality who was somehow associated with the region, we could invoke names like Robert Moses, Albert Einstein, Leroy Grumman or even George Washington (who did, in fact, visit the place).

Far from some good-natured debate over identity, Long Island MacArthur Airport is one of the fundamental transportation assets our region depends upon. It's owned by the Town of Islip, whose supervisor, Phil Nolan, knows how crucial this commercial airport is. He's worked with airlines such as Southwest to create a facility that is as good as, if not a whole lot better than, any regional airport in the country.

What it faces, through no fault of its own, is an airline industry that is consolidating, merging and morphing every month, and no airport can fathom the future. The most recent announcement that Southwest will be acquiring AirTran pushes to the front the question every Long Islander should be asking: "Does this help my airport?"

Long Island MacArthur is well situated to take advantage of this latest decision by Southwest. There remain excruciating delays at LaGuardia, Kennedy and even Newark Airport, while MacArthur has a consistent on-time-performance record that has almost become boring. It also has a railroad station within an easy shuttle bus ride that allows you to blow past westbound traffic. In addition, it sits close to a number of major road networks. We are an obvious solution in solving some major congestion woes at neighboring major airports. Yet more needs to be done to strengthen this airport's strategic position.

One solution is changing the name.

It's clear that most who live west of Meadowbrook Parkway simply don't consider Long Island MacArthur when arranging to fly. Certainly national and international travelers coming to New York don't. For starters, it sounds like a tucked-away community airport. But that hasn't been the case for decades. It's now a professional, well-run airport, offering a significant transportation infrastructure.

One option is changing the name to New York Regional Airport. Some critics will say we would lose our identity, but "The New York Islanders" is a far more tortured Long Island-sounding brand than "New York Regional Airport." Equally important is the creation of a coalition of like-minded businesses to make the strengthening of Long Island MacArthur a strategic priority - no matter what we call it.

Douglas MacArthur was a masterful strategist, a postwar visionary and a great American. But decades after his death, he isn't doing much to get airlines to increase their flights to Long Island or to convince an expanded group of potential passengers to consider the smart alternative to the bruising burdens of LaGuardia or JFK. Until air travelers routing through Long Island paraphrase MacArthur's vow that, "I shall return . . . and bring along my brother-in-law, too," we ought to consider a name change that reflects what this airport really is: a New York regional gateway that's open and ready for more business.

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