By Christopher Cameron and Taylor Ha
Long Island MacArthur Airport’s administration plans to upgrade facilities over the next year to increase air traffic and meet federal standards, but a Long Island based economic expert says the expansion won’t significantly affect air traffic.
The Director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, Martin Cantor, says the expanded facilities won’t significantly affect the amount of air traffic passing through MacArthur, and LI tourism will still be at a disadvantage with only four air carriers hosted at the airport.
“MacArthur has failed in the past and will not be successful at attracting air carriers.” said. “Even though MacArthur is extremely convenient, and I travel out of there when I can.”
LIMA is scheduled to begin construction on a new aircraft rescue and firefighting facility by November. The airport also plans to begin expanding its crosswind runway by 2018, according to airport officials.
MacArthur Airport is owned and operated by the Town of Islip, and hosts US Airways, Elite Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The airport serves approximately two million travelers annually, according to a press release from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“We’ve hired an Air Service Development consultant,” Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in an email. “And we’re currently in the process of developing a plan that focuses on promoting air service and increasing tourism and business interests in the Long Island region.”
MacArthur Airport has primarily catered to tourists, said Airport Commissioner Shelly LaRose-Arken, but is looking to expand into other markets, such as cargo and business travel.
“The majority of our air carrier passenger market is leisure,” LaRose-Arken said. “We want to look at the possibility of some business markets as well.”
An obstacle facing MacArthur Airport is Long Island’s inconvenience as a tourist destination, Cantor said. Cantor had previously worked to promote the tourism industry as the Commissioner of Economic Development for Suffolk County.
“The traveling center of Long Island is closer to LaGuardia and JFK rather than MacArthur.” Cantor said.
Cantor added that the problem is cyclical. Airports need air traffic to attract carriers, but passengers pick airports with varied carriers and destinations.
“The fire rescue department is not going to bring in travelers. That is aviation-related,” Cantor said. “It’s not tourism-related and it’s not going to change the economic impact of the airport.”
Since tourist travelers choose destinations with consistent air traffic, Cantor says that MacArthur can promote air travel on Long Island by attracting business interests through conventions.
“You have to work together [..] and basically guarantee a certain amount of air travel through the business community.” Cantor said. “In other locations, government, businesses, and the airlines all work together to attract air traffic. It doesn’t happen here on Long Island.”
MacArthur has received $11.3 million in federal grant money over the last six months for the expanded ARFF facility to house upgraded fire engines and meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. Additionally, Islip accepted more than $10 million in grant money to fund the construction of a 11,000-square-foot federal customs inspection station.
“Our last [FAA] inspection was in July,” Airport Fire Chief Albert Cinotti said on their emergency response time. “We did it in a minute-fifty. We can probably shave that down to a minute and a half.”