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Study airport needs on Long Island

Planes at their tiedown pads and hangers at

Planes at their tiedown pads and hangers at Brookhaven Calabro Airport (April 23, 2012). Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A severe fiscal drought has dried up some key revenue streams for the Town of Brookhaven, leaving officials little choice but to shed costs. Now Supervisor Mark Lesko wants a private firm to run Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley, which has been losing the town roughly a half-million dollars a year. He's right, but there are some questions about Calabro that need to be asked first.

One is: Do we still need it? There's a long list of facilities for private planes: Suffolk County's Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, the state-run Republic Airport in Farmingdale, and town-run airports such as East Hampton Airport and Islip's Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, to name just a few.

We'd like to see the impending change of management at Calabro lead to an examination not only of this one airport's niche but of the need for small-aircraft services throughout Suffolk County. A town couldn't afford a study like that. So Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could help by having the state's Department of Transportation do it.

Town officials say closing Calabro would be complex. For one thing, the town would likely have to repay back Federal Aviation Administration grants. Also, in a closing, the land would revert to the state.

There may be other valid reasons to keep it flying. Dowling College uses its 100-acre campus there to teach about 250 aviation students courses including pilot training (through private operators), aviation management and air traffic control, among other uses. But Calabro's total general aviation takeoffs, landings, and touch-and-go flights fell from 59,115 in 2010 to 47,246 in 2011. So far, this year's totals look like last year's depleted ones.

The wild card: If the Shinnecock Indian Nation builds a casino in Brookhaven, it's possible that could bring more flights to Calabro.

But it will take a real study to get answers. Lesko is doing the right thing for the town, saving taxpayer money and maybe getting a better-run airport. But for the region, a look at the total need for small-plane facilities is in order. Even with many points in Calabro's favor, it's worth at least asking the question.


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