The History of Long Island MacArthur Airport

Introduction

Long Island MacArthur Airport, located on 1,310 acres in Suffolk County, is the region’s only commercial service facility which has, for most of its existence, struggled with identity and purpose.

Its second–and oval-shaped–50,000 square-foot passenger terminal, opened in 1966 and sporting two opposing, ramp-accessing gates, had exuded a small, hometown atmosphere-so much so, in fact, that scenes from the original Out-of-Towners movie had been filmed in it.

Its subsequent expansion, resulting in a one thousand percent increase in passenger terminal area and some two million annual passengers, had been sporadic and cyclic, characterized by new airline establishment which had always sparked a sequence of passenger attraction, new nonstop route implementation, and additional carriers, before declining conditions had initiated a reverse trend. During cycle peaks, check-in, gate, and ramp space had been at a premium, while during troughs, a pin drop could be heard on the terminal floor.

Its Catch-22 struggle had always entailed the circular argument of carriers reluctant to provide service to the airport because of a lack of passengers and passengers reluctant to use the airport because of a lack of service.

This, in essence, is the force which shaped its seven-decade history. And this, in essence, is Long Island MacArthur Airport’s story.

1. Origins

The 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act, under Section 303, authorized federal fund expenditure for landing areas provided the administrator could certify “that such landing areas were reasonably necessary for use in air commerce or in the interests of national defense.”

At the outbreak of World War II, Congress appropriated $40 million for the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense or “DLAND,” of which the Development Civil Landing Areas (DCLA) had been an extension. Because civil aviation had been initially perceived as an “appendage” of military aviation, it had been considered a “segment” of the national defense system, thus garnering direct federal government civil airport support. Local governments provided land and subsequently maintained and operated the airports. Construction of 200 such airfields began in 1941.

A Long Island regional airport, located in Islip, had been one of them. On September 16 of that year, the Town of Islip–the intended owner and operator of the initially named Islip Airport–sponsored the project under an official resolution designated Public Law 78-216, providing the land, while the federal government agreed to plan and build the actual airport. The one-year, $1.5 million construction project, initiated in 1942, resulted in an airfield with three 5,000-foot runways and three ancillary taxiways. Although it had fulfilled its original military purpose, it had always been intended for public utilization.

Despite increased instrument-based flight training after installation of instrument landing system (ILS) equipment in 1947, the regional facility failed to fulfill projected expectations of becoming New York’s major airport after the recent construction of Idlewild. Losing Lockheed as a major tenant in 1950, the since-renamed MacArthur Airport, in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, would embark on a long development path before that would occur.

2. Initial Service

A 5,000-square-foot passenger terminal and restaurant, funded by the federal government, had been constructed in 1949. Infrastructurally equipped, the airport, surrounded by local community growth, sought its first public air service by petitioning the Civil Aeronautics Board. Islip had attempted to attract scheduled airline service as far back as 1956, and this ultimately took the form of Gateway Airlines three years later when it had commenced operations, on an air taxi level, with a fleet of 11-passenger de Havilland Doves and 15-passenger de Havilland Herons to Boston, Newark, and Washington. Inadequate financing, however, had led to its premature termination only eight months later.

The airport, which only had 20 based aircraft at this time, annually fielded some 30,000 movements. Allegheny Airlines subsequently received full scheduled passenger service route authority from the CAB in 1960 and inaugurated four daily Convair- and Martinliner round-trips to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington in September, carrying more than 19,000 passengers in 1961, its first full year of operations.

Two years later, the FAA opened a New York Air Route Traffic Control Center and a seven-floor control tower, and in 1966, a $1.3 million, 50,000 square-foot oval terminal replaced the original rectangular facility.

Mohawk, granted the second CAB route authority that year, inaugurated Fairchild FH-227 service to Albany, and the two scheduled airlines carried some 110,000 passengers from the since renamed Islip MacArthur Airport by 1969. The 210 based aircraft recorded 240,000 yearly movements.

The runways and taxiways were progressively expanded, partly in response to Eastern and Pan Am’s designation of the airport as an “alternate” on their flight plans.

3. First Major Carrier Service

Long envisioned as a reliever airport to JFK and La Guardia, which would provide limited, but important nonstop service to key US cities and hubs, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the major Florida destinations, the Long Island airport urgently needed additional, major-airline service, but this goal remained elusive.

The cycle, however, had been broken on April 26, 1971, when American Airlines had inaugurated 727-100 “Astrojet” service to Chicago-O’Hare, Islip’s first pure-jet and first “trunk” carrier operation, permitting same-day, round-trip business travel and eliminating the otherwise required La Guardia commute. Because of American’s major-carrier prestige, it had attracted both attention and passengers, indicating that Islip had attained “large airport” status, and the Chicago route, now the longest nonstop one from the air field, had provided a vital lifeline to a primary, Midwestern city and to American’s route system, offering numerous flight connections.

The route had been quickly followed in the summer with the inauguration of Allegheny DC-9-30 service to Providence and Washington, while Altair had launched Beech B99 and Nord N.262 turboprop flights to Bridgeport and Philadelphia two years later.

American, Allegheny (which had intermittently merged with Mohawk in 1972), and Altair provided the established Long Island air connection during the 1970s.

In order to reflect its regional location, the facility had, for the fourth time, been renamed, adopting the title of Long Island MacArthur Airport in 1978.

During most of the 1970s, it handled an average of 225,000 annual passengers. Allegheny, the premier operator, had offered nine daily pure-jet BAC-111 and DC-9-30 departures during 1978.

By March of 1982, USAir, the rebranded Allegheny Airlines, had been its only remaining pure-jet carrier with daily DC-9-30 service to Albany and BAC-111-200 service to Washington-National–perhaps emphasizing its ability to profitably operate from small-community airfields with its properly-sized twin-jet equipment.

The early 1980s were characterized by commuter-regional carrier dominance, with operations provided by Pilgrim, New Haven Airlines, Altair, Air North, Mall Airways, and Ransome. The latter, first flying as part of the Allegheny Commuter consortium, later operated independently under its own name in affiliation with Delta Air Lines, offering some 17 daily M-298 and DHC-7 departures to seven regional cities.

Aside from Ransome, it had often appeared as if the airport’s regional airline floodgates had been gappingly opened: Suburban/Allegheny Commuter, Southern Jersey/Allegheny Commuter, Empire, and Henson-The Piedmont Regional Airline had all descended on its runways. Precision, which had inaugurated multiple-daily Dornier Do-228-200 services to both Boston and Philadelphia, operated independently, as Precision-Eastern Express, and as Precision-Northwest Airlink, and had been the only airline to simultaneously offer scheduled service from neighboring Republic Airport in Farmingdale, primarily a general aviation field.

4. Northeastern International Airlines

Market studies had long indicated the need for nonstop Long Island-Florida service because of its concentration of tourist attractions and to facilitate visits between Long Island children and Florida-relocated retiree parents. Deregulation, the very force behind multiple-airline creation, divergent service and fare concepts, and the relative ease of new market entry, had spawned Northeastern International, which was founded to provide high-density, low-fare, limited-amenity service, and fulfilled the idealized nonstop, Long Island-Florida connection when it had inaugurated operations on February 11, 1982 with a former Evergreen International DC-8-50, initially offering four weekly round-trips to Fort Lauderdale and one to Orlando. After a second aircraft had been acquired, it had been able to record a 150,000-passenger total during its first year of service, with 32,075 having been boarded in December alone.

Although its corporate headquarters had been located in Fort Lauderdale, its operational base had been established at Long Island MacArthur and it ultimately served Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, and St. Petersburgh with the two DC-8s and two former Pan Am 727-100s with seven daily departures. Incorporating both the charter carrier strategy of operating high-density, single-class, low-fare service, and the major airline strategy of flying large-capacity aircraft, it actually served a very competitive route-that of New York-to-Florida-without incurring any competition at all by operating directly from Islip.

By 1984, with Northeastern having served as a catalyst to carrier and route inaugurations, eleven airlines had served the airport, inclusive of Allegheny Commuter, American, Eastern, Empire, Henson, NewAir, Northeastern, Pilgrim, Ransome, United, and USAir, relieving JFK and La Guardia of air traffic, directly serving the Long Island market, and fulfilling the airport’s originally envisioned role of becoming New York’s secondary commercial facility. Simultaneously providing nonstop service to Chicago-O’Hare from Islip, American and United both competed for the same passenger base.

By 1986, Long Island MacArthur had, for the first time in its 36-year scheduled history, handled one million passengers in a single year, a level since equaled or exceeded.

To cater to the explosive demand and ease its now-overstrained passenger facilities, the Town of Islip embarked on a progressive terminal facility improvement program which had initially encompassed the addition of two commuter aircraft gates, the enclosure of the former curbside front awning, and two glass-enclosed wings-the west for the now-covered baggage carousel and the east for the three relocated rental-car counters and the Austin Travel agency. The internal roadway had been realigned and additional parking spaces had been created.

A more ambitious terminal expansion program, occurring in 1990 and costing $3.2 million, resulted in two jetbridge-lined concourses which extended from the rear portion of the oval terminal, adding 22,700 square feet of space. Runway 6-24’s 1,000-foot extension, to 7,000 feet, had ultimately been completed three years later after a decade of primarily local resident resistance due to believed noise increases.

By the end of 1990, the transformation of Long Island MacArthur Airport from a small, hometown airfield served by a couple of operators to a major facility served by most of the major carriers had been complete.

Several conclusions could already be drawn from the airport’s hitherto 30-year scheduled history.

1. Allegheny-USAir, along with its regional subsidiaries Allegheny Commuter and USAir Express, had provided the initial spark which had led to the present growth explosion and had been the only consistent, anchor carrier during its three-decade, scheduled service history, between 1960 and 1990. During this time it had absorbed other Islip operators, inclusive of the original Mohawk and Piedmont, the latter of which had intermittently absorbed Empire and Henson, and had shed still others, such as Ransome Airlines, which, as an independent carrier, had almost established a regional, turboprop hub at MacArthur.

2. Three carriers had been tantamount to its three-decade evolution: (1). Allegheny-USAir, which had reserved the distinction of being Long Island MacArthur’s first, largest, and, for a period, only pure-jet operator; American, which had changed its image by associating it with large, trunk-carrier prestige; and Northeastern, whose bold, innovative service inauguration and low fares had been directly responsible for the latest, unceasing growth cycle.

3. Many airlines, unaware of the facility’s traffic potential, never permanently abandoned the air field, including American and Eastern, which had both suspended operations, but subsequently returned; Northeastern, which had returned after two bankruptcies; United, which had discontinued its own service, yet maintained a presence through two separate regional airline affiliations-Presidential-United Express and Atlantic Coast-United Express-thus continuing to link its Washington-Dulles hub; Continental, which had returned through its own commuter agreement; and Pilgrim, which, despite service discontinuation, had maintained an autonomous check-in counter where it had handled other carriers until it itself had reinstated service.

4. Of the approximately 30 airlines which had served Long Island MacArthur, many had indirectly retained a presence either through name-change, other-carrier absorption, or regional-airline two-letter code-share agreements.

5. The Northeastern-forged air link between Long Island and Florida had, despite its own final bankruptcy, never been lost, with other carriers always filling the void, including Eastern, Carnival, Braniff, Delta Express, and Spirit Airlines.

Because of its market fragility, however, the Long Island regional airport was far more vulnerable to economic cycles than the primary New York airports had been, recessed conditions often resulting in the exodus of carriers in search of more profitable routes. In 1994, for example, three airlines discontinued service and one ceased operating altogether.

A $13.2 million expansion program of the 32-year old, multiply-renovated oval terminal, funded by passenger facility charge (PFC)-generated revenue, had been initiated in the spring of 1998 and completed in August of the following year, resulting in a 62,000-square-foot area increase. The enlarged, reconfigured structure included the addition of two wings–the west with four baggage carousels, three rental car counters, and several airline baggage service offices, and the east with 48 (as opposed to the previous 20) passenger check-in positions. The original, oval-shaped structure now housed an enlarged newsstand and gift shop and the relocated central security checkpoint, but retained the departures level snack bar, the upper level Skyway CafĂ© and cocktail lounge, and the twin, jetbridge-provisioned concourses added during the 1990 expansion phase, while the aircraft parking ramp had been progressively increased until the last blade of grass had been transformed into concrete. A realigned entrance road, an extension of the existing short-term parking lot, 1,000 additional parking spaces, and a quasi-parking lot system subdivided into employee, resident, hourly, daily, and economy (long-term) sections had completed the renovation. Shuttle bus service between the parking lot and the terminal was provided for the first time.

5. Southwest Airlines

An effort to attract Southwest Airlines had begun in late-1996 when the rapidly-expanding, highly profitable, low-fare carrier had contemplated service to a third northeast city after Manchester and Providence, inclusive of Newburgh’s Stewart International and White Plains’ Westchester County in New York; Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut; and Teterboro and Trenton’s Mercer County in New Jersey. All had been smaller, secondary airports characteristic of its route system. It had even briefly explored service to Farmingdale’s Republic Airport on Long Island and Teterboro in New Jersey, both of which had been noncommercial, general aviation fields with business jet concentrations. Three had offered terminal improvements in exchange for the service. But Long Island MacArthur was ultimately selected because of the 1.6 million residents living within a 20-mile radius of the airport, local business health, and, according to Southwest Chief Executive Officer, Herb Kelleher, “underserved, overpriced air service” which was “ripe for competition.”

Following initial Southwest interest in 1997, then-Town of Islip Supervisor Peter McGowan and other officials flew to Dallas, where Herb Kelleher stated the need for the previously described terminal and parking facility expansions before operations could begin. The meeting had ended with nothing more than a symbolic handshake.

The nearly two-year effort to entice the airline had culminated in the December 1998 announcement of Southwest’s intended March 14, 1999 service launch with 12 daily 737 departures, including eight to Baltimore, two to Chicago-Midway, one to Nashville, and one to Tampa, all of which would provide through- or connecting-service to 29 other Southwest-served cities. Although the low-fare flights had been expected to attract some passengers who may otherwise have flown from JFK or La Guardia Airports, they had been primarily targeted at the Long Island market and, as a byproduct, had been expected to attract an increased airport traffic base, additional carriers, and generate an estimated $500,000 per year for the Town of Islip. Two Southwest-dedicated gates could accommodate up to 20 daily departures-or eight more than the inaugural flight schedule included-before additional facilities would have to be obtained. The Islip station, staffed by 44, represented its 53rd destination in 27 states.

Southwest had provided the fourth spark in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s airline- and passenger-attraction cycle, traced as follows:

1. The original air taxi Gateway Airlines service of 1959 and the initial scheduled Allegheny Airlines service of 1960.

2. The first trunk-carrier, pure-jet American Airlines flights of 1971.

3. The first low-fare, nonstop Northeastern International Florida service of 1982.

4. The first low-fare, high frequency, major-carrier Southwest service of 1999.

American, the last of the original, major carriers to vacate the airport, left it with three predominant types of airlines as the millennium had approached:

1. The turboprop commuter airline serving the nonhub destinations, such as Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Hartford, and Newburgh.

2. The regional jet operator feeding its major-carrier affiliate at one of its hubs, such as ASA feeding Delta in Atlanta, Comair connecting with Delta in Cincinnati, and Continental Express integrating its flight schedule with Continental in Cleveland.

3. The low-fare, high-density, no-frills carrier operating the leisure-oriented sectors to Florida. As of December 1, 1999, three airlines, inclusive of Delta Express, Southwest, and Spirit, had operated 15 daily departures to five Florida destinations.

Long Island MacArthur’s expansion and passenger facility improvements, Southwest’s service inauguration, and the attraction of other carriers had collectively resulted in a 113% increase in passenger boardings in 1999 compared to the year-earlier period. The figure, which had been only shy of the two million mark, had been the highest in the Long Island airport’s four-decade commercial history. Southwest had carried 34% of this total.

Eleven airlines had provided service during this time: ASA Atlantic Southeast, American, Business Express, Comair, CommutAir/US Airways Express, Continental Express, Delta Express, Piedmont/US Airways Express, Shuttle America, Spirit, and Southwest itself.

Less than two weeks after Southwest had secured a third gate and increased its daily departures to 22, it announced, in a unprecedented move, its intention to self-finance 90-percent of a $42 million expansion of the East Concourse in order to construct four additional, dedicated gates and overnight parking positions by the end of 2001, thus increasing the airport’s current 19-gate total to 23.

The concourse extension, intended to provide it with both increased employee and passenger room, would free up its existing three gates for other-carrier utilization while its new four-gate facility would permit a service increase to some 30 daily flights based upon future passenger demand, aircraft availability, and Town of Islip-approved departure increases.

The expansion would mark the seventh such development of the original terminal, as follows:

1. The original oval terminal construction.

2. The partially enclosed arrivals baggage belt installation.

3. The construction of two commuter gates.

4. The enclosure of the front awning, which entailed the relocation of the rental car companies and the Austin Travel agency, and the installation of an enlarged, fully enclosed baggage belt.

5. The construction of the jetbridge-equipped east and west concourses.

6. The construction of the West Arrivals Wing and the East Departures Wing, the gift shop expansion, and the central security checkpoint relocation.

7. The Southwest-financed, quad-gate addition, increasing the number of departure gates from 19 to 23.

Victim, like all airports, to post-September 11 traffic declines, Long Island MacArthur Airport lost eight daily departures operated by American Eagle, Delta Express, and US Airways Express, although the airport’s October 2001 passenger figures had only been six percent below those of the year-earlier period. No nonstop destinations had, however, been severed. With Delta Express’s daily 737-200 Florida flight frequency having been progressively reduced from an all-time high of seven to just one–to Fort Lauderdale–its operations could be divided into three categories:

1. Turboprop regional

2. Pure-jet regional

3. Southwest

Nevertheless, in the four years since Southwest had inaugurated service, the airport had handled 8,220,790 passengers, or an annual average of two million. Without Southwest, it would, at best, have handled only half that amount.

On April 30, 2003, for the second time in a five-year period, Long Island MacArthur Airport broke ground on new terminal facilities. Designed by the Baldassano Architectural Group, the Long Island architectural firm which had completed the $13.2 million airport expansion and modernization program in 1999, the new, 154,000-square-foot, four-gate addition was constructed on the north side of the existing east concourse which had housed Southwest’s operations. Citing increased space and potential growth as reasons for the new facility, Southwest claimed that the existing three gates, which had fielded a combined 24 daily departures, had reached their saturation point and that additional “breathing room” for both passengers and employees had been needed, particularly during flight delays. The net gain of an additional gate, which would be coupled with larger lounges, would eventually facilitate eight additional flights to new or existing US destinations, based upon market demand.

The project, initially pegged at $42 million, but later increased to $62 million, was financed by Southwest, which sought government reimbursement with the Town of Islip for up to $18 million for the non-airline specific construction aspects, such as airfield drainage, which was considered a common-use utility.

The 114,254-square-foot, Southwest-funded and -named Peter J. McGowan Concourse officially opened at the end of November 2004. Accessed by a new awning-protected entrance from the airport’s terminal-fronted curbside, the new wing, connected to the existing passenger check-in area, curved to the left past the flight arrival and departure television monitors to the new, large security checkpoint from where passengers ascended, via two escalators, to the upper level departures area.

Concurrent with the opening had been the announcement that Southwest would now proceed with Phase II of its expansion by building a second, $20 million addition which would connect the new concourse with the old, altogether replacing the east concourse which had served it since it had inaugurated service in 1999. The project incorporated four more gates, for a total of eight, enabling up to 80 daily departures to be offered.

6. New Leadership, Service Reductions, and Infrastructure Improvements

The end of the 2000-decade, characterized by new leadership, airline service reductions, and infrastructure investments, once again signaled a reversal in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s growth cycle.

Al Werner, Airport Commission for 53 years, retired on November 16, 2007, passing the torch to Teresa Rizzuto. Accepted after a three-month, nationwide search conducted by Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan, she brought considerable airline industry experience with her and was appointed to the position on February 5, 2008 after an Islip Town Board vote, now entrusted with heralding the regional facility into the next decade whose multi-faceted agenda necessarily included the following goals:

1. Devise a marketing plan to increase airport recognition, thereby attracting a larger passenger base.

2. Establish new, nonstop routes of existing carriers and attract new airlines able to compete with existing, lost-cost Southwest, to provide the required core service for this enlarged passenger base, yet avoid alienating local residents because of excessive noise.

3. Invest in infrastructure modernization and development, particularly on the airport’s general aviation west side.

4. Increase revenues for the Town of Islip, the airport’s owner and operator.

Long Island MacArthur’s very existence relied upon its ability to serve its customers’ needs, and both destination and airline reductions during the latter part of the decade, coupled with flickering, but quickly extinguished glimmers of new-carrier hope, only obviated its purpose.

Exploratory talks in 2007, with Southwest-modeled, Ireland based-Ryanair, for instance, would have resulted in both the airport’s first international and first transatlantic service, hitherto precluded by the absence of customs and immigration facilities, few connecting possibilities, and inadequate runway length on which heavy, fuel-laden widebody aircraft could take off for intercontinental sectors. But higher thrust engines facilitating shorter-field performance had remedied the latter problem, and pre-departure US clearance would have been performed in Ireland. Because Southwest and Ryanair maintained the same business models of operating single-type, 737 fleets from underserved, overpriced, secondary airports whose lower operating costs could be channeled into lower fares, domestic-international traffic feed between the two had been feasible. Despite existing Islip service provided by Delta and US Airways Express, Southwest still carried 92 percent of its passengers. However, the proposed strategy had yet to produce any concrete results.

Indeed, by the end of the year, the number of potential Southwest connecting flights only declined when decreased demand had necessitated the cancellation of six daily departures, including two to Baltimore, three to Chicago, and one to Las Vegas.

Potential service loss counterbalancing occurred on May 1 of the following year, however, when Spirit Airlines, after an eight-year interval, reinaugurated twice daily, round-trip, A-319 service to Ft. Lauderdale, with $7.00 introductory fares, facilitating 23 Caribbean and Latin American connections through its south Florida hub.

The A-319, the airport’s first, regularly scheduled airbus operation, touched down at 0954 on Runway 6 on its inaugural flight, taxiing through a dual fire truck-created water arch, before redeparting at 1030 as Flight 833 with a high load factor. The second flight departed in the evening.

The departures were two of Spirit’s more than 200 systemwide flights to 43 destinations, but the weak flicker of light they had provided had been almost as quickly doused when, three months later, on July 31, rising fuel prices and declining economic conditions had necessitated their discontinuation, leaving only a promise of return when improved conditions merited their reinstatement.

Further tipping the scales to the service loss side had been Delta Air Line’s decision to discontinue its only remaining, single daily regional jet service operated by its Comair counterpart to Atlanta, severing feed to the world’s largest airport in terms of enplanements and to Delta’s largest connecting hub, and ending the Long Island presence established as far back as 1984. Delta had cited the reason for the discontinuation, along with that in other markets, as an attempt to “optimize…financial performance.”

The second carrier loss, leaving only Southwest and US Airways Express, had resulted in a 10.2-percent passenger decline in 2008 compared to the year-earlier period.

Another attempted, but mostly unsuccessful airline service had occurred in June of 2009 with the appearance of PublicCharters.com, which had intended to link Islip with Groton, Connecticut, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, during the summer.

In order to remedy Long Island MacArthur Airport’s identity recognition deficiency, a study completed by a Phil Nolan-assembled task force strongly concluded that the search for and attraction of new airline service “should be a major focus of management,” a function up until now mostly ignored. The airport’s lack of recognition, coupled with JFK’s and La Guardia’s close proximity to Manhattan and their dizzying array of nonstop services, further urged the need for the study.

A $150,000 federal grant, aimed at answering the elusive question of why Long Islanders still chose to use New York airports when Islip itself offered a nonstop flight, attempted to determine local resident travel patterns and then attract carrier-providing service.

A partial remedy had been the implementation of a $300,000 market campaign, in conjunction with the Long Island Railroad and Southwest Airlines, to increase airport awareness by the eastern Nassau and Suffolk County population, featuring the slogan, “We make flying a breeze.”

Significant attention to airport infrastructure improvement and a related masterplan had also been given.

Long-awaited ramp repairs, for instance, had been made. One year after the $12.4 million apron covering gates five through eight had been laid in 2004, cracks, in which engine-digestible debris could potentially collect, appeared, and were traceable to an inadequate, six-inch-thick subbase which failed to rise above the ground level, and was therefore susceptible to frost. Water, seeping into the subbase, was subjected to freezing-thawing cycles which expanded the concrete, loosened its gravel, and propagated the cracks.

In order to replace the decaying, 105-foot control tower constructed in 1962, the FAA awarded J. Kokolakis Constructing, Inc., of Rocky Point, a $16.4 million contract to build a new, 157-foot, cylindrical tower next to it in January of 2008, a project completed in November of the following year, at which time internal equipment, costing another $8.8 million, was installed.

Instrumental in the airport’s modernization had been the redevelopment of its 45-acre west side, which currently houses charter companies, flying schools, and airport maintenance in mostly dilapidated hangars and buildings, but could potentially be replaced with new energy efficient and conservation compliant structures optimally used by educational institutions offering air traffic control curriculums.

During the latter portion of the decade, Long Island MacArthur Airport once again rode the descending side of the revenue curve, but remains a vital air link and economic engine to eastern Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Between 1996 and 2003, it had experienced an average annual economic impact growth rate of 6.85 percent and between 2001 and 2007 more than 900,000 square feet of commercial space was developed along Veterans Highway, its access roadway, as a result of it. According to Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies, its 2003 economic impact was pegged at $202 million and was projected to increase by 68 percent, or to $340 million, by the end of the decade without any further expansion, indicating that, as a revenue generator, that its potential had hardly begun to be tapped. The service reductions, increases in Homeland Security costs, and eroding economy had all reversed that potential, but its infrastructure improvements, more than 500,000-square-foot passenger terminal, four runways, easy access, uncongested environment, two-mile proximity to the Long Island Railroad’s Ronkonkoma station, and four-mile proximity to the Long Island Expressway places it squarely on the threshold of growth in the next decade, when conditions improve. According to newly appointed Airport Commissioner Teresa Rizzuto, “We’re ready” for new carriers at that time.

Long Island MacArthur Airport: The Frontier Years

Promise to Ronkonkoma-located Long Island MacArthur Airport, operating in the shadows of Manhattan-proximity La Guardia and JFK International airports, always came in the form of new airline serve, which attempted to achieve profitability and replace that which the discontinued ones failed to. Several ultimately unsuccessful low-cost and upstart carriers left little more than a fading imprint during the past half-decade.

Alaska-based PenAir, for example, seeking to replace the popular, multiple-daily Saab S-340 flights once operated by Business Express and later American Eagle between Long Island and Boston, forged tis own link in July of 2013 with two daily roundtrips operated by the same 34-passenger turboprop. But poor load factors led to its discontinuation a year later.

“We were losing money,” according to David Hall, PenAir’s Chief Operation Officer. “We just weren’t able to get to a consistent operating profit. Unfortunately, it’s a business and that’s how it works.”

Another attempt was made by low-cost, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which inaugurated two weekly roundtrips to Punta Gorda, Florida, in December of 2013. Because their winter sun-seeking draw diminished in the spring, they were discontinued on May 26 of the following year and were intended to be reinstated in December. They never were.

Still another Islip entrant was Elite Airways. Founded, as reflected by its name, in 2016 by airline veterans wishing to establish a higher-quality airline that deviated from the proliferation of no-frills ones, it was certified as a US Part 121 air carrier that offered charter and scheduled service, initially transporting professional and college sports teams, company executives, heads of state, White House press corps, and VIP tour groups. Headquartered in Portland, Maine, but concentrating its maintenance, crew training, sales, and marketing in Melbourne, Florida, it operated charter flights for the first six years of its existence before transitioning to scheduled ones with a minuscule route system, including Melbourne-Portland, Naples (Florida)-Newark, Naples-Portland, Vero Beach (Florida)-Newark, and Rockford (Illinois)-Fort Collins (Colorado) sectors. Its 11-strong Bombardier Region Jet fleet consisted of a single CRJ-100, five CRJ-200s, and five CRJ-700s.

Seeking incentives, such as reduced or waved landing fees, underserved airports with its 50- and 70-seat aircraft, It intended to offer sunbirds air links between New England and Florida, very much the way Northeast had with its 727 “Yellowbirds” in the early-1970s before Delta acquired the carrier. Because of its airline veteran founders, who additionally endeavored to resurrect the higher quality inflight service of the full-fare legacy carriers, it bore similarities with no-longer existent KIWI Airways.

Elite touted itself as “Melbourne’s hometown airline.”

Catalyst to the Long Island MacArthur service was passenger request.

“The funniest thing is that if it wasn’t for people who are originally from Long Island, we wouldn’t be here,” according to Elite Airways president John Pearsall. “On our route we’re presently flying between Newark and Vero Beach… we’ve had more people asking for Islip, Long Island, than any other destination we fly to.”

Twice-weekly service, on Friday and Sunday, to Portland, Maine; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Melbourne, Florida, on which $99.00, $139.00, and $149.00 introductory fares were respectively charged, began on June 17, 2016, amid the typically upbeat comments from Pearsall, who said that he expected “passenger demand to be strong for these new routes” and Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who commented, “I am thrilled that the Town of Islip is entering into a partnership with Elite Airways. The addition of Elite to the Long Island MacArthur Airport family will offer both residents and those living in Nassau and Suffolk counties the opportunity to travel to some of the most desirable vacation destinations along the east coast… “

The Portland route continued to Bar Harbor, while that to Melbourne was envisioned as being extended to St. Croix, the US Virgin Islands.

Because of Elite’s presence in Rockford, Illinois, it also contemplated connecting Islip with that Chicago-alternative destination.

“We will be announcing additional destinations as we get more and more familiar with the market here,” Pearsall said.

Another route then under consideration was that to Newport News, Virginia, slated for a March 13, 2017 inauguration. But it was forced to postpone it because of a pending investigation concerning the $3.55 million state funding, intended for infrastructure improvement that was allegedly used to guarantee a loan for a low cost carrier.

Although the controversy did not involve Elite itself, it found it prudent to avoid the airport.

“The Peninsula Airport Commission has been informed that Elite Airways has chosen to temporarily suspend service from the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (to Newark) due to the continuing negative and inaccurate headlines, which are preventing the introduction of this brand new property to our community,” according to a statement. “The commission and Elite Airways have a great working relationship as well as support for one another. We look forward to setting a new launch date over the next few months. We feel certain that Elite will find success out of the market, and that our community will enjoy their ‘Elite Class’ of service.”

“It was a difficult decision to postpone the start of service… ,” Pearsall said, “as the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport has been a great partner to work with. We strongly believe in the market and want to give this service the best possible climate to start in. Postponing the start date will allow both the airline and the airport to be more successful in launching new air service to meet the needs of the community.”

It never did. Nor did it to Rockford. And existing Islip service, considered seasonal, was suspended between January 15 and February 16, 2017, before it was reinstated and severed a second time at the end of April. Although a second reintroduction was slated for July, it was never implemented.

While the service duration of these carriers was brief, one, National Airlines, never even touched down on Long Island soil.

Founded in 2008, the Orlando-based airline operated passenger and cargo flights with Boeing 747-400BCFs as National Air Cargo, but upgraded to public charter service on June 11, 2016 under Department of Transportation (DOT) PC#16-038, whose flights were sold by FlyBranson Travel LLC dba (doing business as) Branson Air Express and operated by National Air Cargo Group, Inc., which itself did business as National Airlines.. Its fleet, a pair of Rolls Royce 40,200 thrust-pound RB.211-535E4-powered Boeing 757-200s configured for 170 (26 first class and 144 coach) and 184 (22 first class and 162 coach) passengers, was intended for a six-destination route system, encompassing Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; Islip, New York; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Sanford-Orlando, Florida; St. John’s, Newfoundland; and Windsor, Ontario.

“At National Airlines we provide an enhanced passenger travel experience air mile after air mile,” it described itself. “Our uncompromising quality, unrelenting service, and unmatched agility set us apart as one of the market’s most elite passenger airlines. We travel farther, move faster, and arrive on time with a focused commitment to safe performance. From the runway to the horizon, National provides a world-class flight experience.

“National is committed to customer care. We believe our passengers are the most precious cargo that an aircraft can carry, and therefore we treat each individual as an elite global VIP. From the dedicated service of our inflight crew to the undeniable beauty of our aircraft, we focus on the details.”

Planned were two weekly departures to Aguadilla as Flight N8 273 on Monday and Friday and four to San Juan as Flight N8 231 on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from Islip. All were scheduled to leave at 0900.

“The city of Islip is a wonderful and engaging community.” according to Edward Davidson, National’s president and CEO, “and Long Island MacArthur Airport offers both outstanding service and convenience for our customers. National Airlines believes there is demand for our unique brand of exclusive service of inclusive fares between Islip, San Juan, and Aguadilla.”

“There is a vibrant Puerto Rican community in and around Islip and the entire New York City region,” he continued, “and we believe travelers will find our combination of convenient location and inclusive service very attractive.”

Although it would have constituted the first nonstop service to the Caribbean from the Long Island airport, a lack of suitable equipment precluded its inauguration, resulting in a six-month delay and prompting passenger refunds.

“National has experienced challenges acquiring the very popular Boeing 757 aircraft,” according to a statement issued by Town of Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter. “Regretfully, this has prompted National to postpone the June 1 launch from Long Island MacArthur Airport to Puerto Rico. However, the Town remains very enthusiastic in welcoming National Airlines t to our airport family.”

It was never given the opportunity to do so.

The airport fared far better with the next carrier to touchdown on its runways, ultra-low-cost, Denver-based Frontier. Announcing nonstop service to Orlando in May of 2017, the airline, an Airbus A320 operator, placed itself in competition with incumbent Southwest to that destination and Florida in general, offering unbundled, $39.00 introductory fares, with additional fees for checked baggage, early boarding, drinks, snacks, and refundability. Based upon advanced bookings, it became the threshold to a significant Islip presence that would entail more nonstop flights and to further destinations than Southwest itself and (then) Elite had offered.

As part of 21 cities it was adding to its existing 61, it was considered the first step in an expansion that would double its size in the next five years.

“Islip is going to be part of the largest expansion in Frontier’s history,” said Scott Fisher, the carrier’s senior director, at a MacArthur news conference.

Because of airport facility availability, a lack of congestion, and the reconstruction of La Guardia, which it also served, Fisher labeled it an “easy airport experience” in the otherwise competitive New York market. “This became a no-brainer in terms of a partnership,” he said.

“We thank you for your confidence in what we know is truly a treasure that has been untapped,” Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said to Fisher at the news conference. “This is really going to reap a tremendous amount of rewards for everybody.”

Touching down at 0936 after an inbound ferry flight from Orlando on August 16 and given a water cannon salute from MacArthur Airport Fire-Rescue, the single-class Frontier A320-200, designated Flight F9 1779, became the inaugural departure, pushed back from the gate at 1045. It would return as Flight F9 1778 at 2155 that evening.

It became the first in a dual-phase expansion at MacArthur, with service to Fort Myers, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, and West Palm Beach beginning on October 5, and that to Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis the following April 9, 2018. Atlanta and Chicago constituted two of the airport’s once-served, but subsequently lost destinations. They remained the two still most-requested ones.

Yet, because deregulation facilitated the rapid entry and exit of markets, and very low-fare carriers such as Frontier, by necessity, were forced to adopt hairpin triggers when revenue fell below expectations, a significant portion of its Islip route system was modified shortly after disappointing load factors dictated the need to do so.

The first destination to be eliminated, on March 5, was New Orleans.

“We constantly evaluate route performance,” according to Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver III. “Unfortunately, this capacity was better… redeployed elsewhere in our route network.”

Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken echoed this reality.

“Unfortunately, one of (Frontier’s) ten routes-New Orleans-did not perform as was anticipated, and therefore adjustments to the schedule are being made to ensure the carrier continues to be successful in the market.”

Like the first in a string of falling dominoes, however, it knocked down Miami and Fort Myers on April 8.

“They just weren’t meeting our expectations,” Oliver III said.

Two more dominoes fell on July 5-namely, Detroit and Minneapolis.

“We haven’t seen the level of demand that we need to see for the routes,” said Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s Vice President of Commercial Operations.

Myrtle Beach and San Juan replaced two of the original destinations, and Fort Myers, Miami, and West Palm Beach were being considered for reinstatement during the winter 2018-2019 season.

Despite the cancellations, Frontier remained committed to Islip, provided load factors ensured adequate profitability.

“We’ve been working together with the airport and they’ve done a good job promoting service,” said Shurz.

Although American Eagle and Southwest remained the long-time anchor tenants, they made tiny adjustments themselves. The former upgraded its 37-passenger de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-100 turboprop to American’s Philadelphia hub to a 45-passenger Embraer ERJ-145 pure-jet, representing a 31-percent capacity increase, while the latter inaugurated one-stop, single-aircraft service to Raleigh/Durham, via Baltimore, facilitating same-day return business travel.

Long Island MacArthur continued its perpetual search for airlines, while the airliners themselves continued their search for passengers and profitability in the shadow of the New York airports, as evidenced by the latest round of carrier entries and exits. Yet, despite losses between 2011 and 2014, with the $2 million one its largest in 2012, it ended 2017 with an almost $3 million surplus.

In the fiscal year from February 2017 to February of 2018, it recorded 6,473 aircraft departures, a 10.67-percent increase, 694,000 arriving passengers, a 17.28-percent increase, and 697,000 departing passengers, a 17.43-percent increase, according to DOT statistics. The number of nonstops served more than doubled, from seven to 15.

Like American Airlines in the 1970s, Northeastern International in the 1980s, and Southwest in the 1990s, Frontier could serve as the catalyst to the airport’s next development cycle, provided it can determine the markets that ensure its profitability and long-term presence.

The Commuter Airlines of Long Island MacArthur Airport

Introduction:

Although commuter airline operations, conducted by a variety of almost-exclusively turboprop aircraft that accommodated between 19 and 50 passengers,augmented Long Island MacArthur Airport’s six-and-a-half decade scheduled service history, they were integral to its development as a regional airfield, providing both origin-and-destination and connecting, major-carrier aligned, two-letter code share links to many northeast cities with equipment optimized for sector length, demand, capacity, frequency, and cost.

These services can be subdivided into “Initial Service,” “Area-Airport Shuttles,” “Northeast Commuter Service,” “Code-Share Hub Feed,” and “Last Commuter Carrier Operation” categories.

Initial Service:

Initial, scheduled service, inaugurated shortly after the airport’s 5,000-square-foot, rectangular-shaped terminal was completed, entailed a tri-city route system, connecting Long Island with Boston, Newark, and Washington, and operated in 1959 by Gateway Airlines with de Havilland DH.104 Dove and DH.114 Heron aircraft.

The former, a conventional low-wing monoplane with a 57-foot span and two de Havilland Gipsy Queen 70 Mk 3 six-cylinder, air-cooled, in-line piston engines rated at 400 hp, was designed to meet the Brabazon Committee’s Type VB specifications for a post-war mini- or commuter-airliners, but nevertheless incorporated several “large aircraft” advancements, including all-metal Redux bonding construction, geared and supercharged powerplants, braking propellers, power operated trailing edge flaps, and a tricycle undercarriage configuration.

Resembling it, its DH.114 Heron successor, seating between 14 and 17 in an 8.6-foot longer cabin, was powered by four 250-hp Gipsy Queen 30 Mk 2 piston engines and had a 13,500-pound gross weight, whose lift was facilitated by a 71.6-foot wingspan. It first flew in prototype form on May 10, 1950.

Inauspicious and short-lived, the Gateway Airlines flights, only lasting eight months, nevertheless served as the aerial threshold to Long Island MacArthur’s future northeast commuter operations.

Area-Airport Shuttles:

While Gateway’s Newark service paved the way to other, similar area-airport shuttles, it demonstrated that if Long Island MacArthur could not offer further-afield service on its own, it could provide quick-hop connections to other, more established New York airports that could.

One such attempt, although a little longer in duration, occurred between 1979 and 1980 with Nitlyn Airways, whose Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftains tried to feed TWA’s flights at JFK.

Intended as a successor to the company’s PA-23-250 twin piston private and executive Aztec, the Navajo had a 34.6-foot length and 40.8-foot span. Powered by two 425-hp Lycoming TIGO-541-E1A six-cylinder, horizontally opposed engines, it had a 7,800-pound gross weight and 1,285-mile range, and could be configured with various standard, commuter, and business seating arrangements for up to eight, who boarded by means of an aft, left air stair door.

Much later in MacArthur’s history, another carrier, enjoying greater longevity and success, linked the Long Island airfield with Newark International Airport. In this case, the airline was Brit, which operated under a Continental Express code-share agreement for the purpose of feeding Continental’s mainline flights and the equipment encompassed the very modern ATR-42-300.

This design, which has yet to be usurped by a more advanced turboprop in 2020, remains one of the two premier regional airliners.

Following the latest intra-European cooperation trend, the French Aerospatiale and Italian Aeritalia aerospace firms elected to collaborate on a regional airliner that combined design elements of their respective, once-independent AS-35 and AIT-230 proposals.

Redesignated ATR-42-the letters representing the French “Avions de Transport Regional” and “Aerei di Trasporto Regionale” and the number reflecting the average seating capacity-the high-wing, twin-turboprop, not-quite-t-tail with its main undercarriage bogies retracting into fuselage underside blisters, was powered by two 1,800-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PW120 engines when it first flew as the ATR-42-200 on August 16, 1984. The production version, the ATR-42-300, featured uprated, 2,000-shp powerplants.

Of modern airliner design, it accommodated up to 49 four-abreast passengers with a central aisle, overhead storage compartments, a flat ceiling, a galley, and a lavatory.

Granted its French and Italian airworthiness certificate in September of 1985 after final assembly in Toulouse, France, it entered scheduled service four months later on December 9 with Air Littoral. With a 37,300-pound maximum takeoff weight, it had a 265-knot maximum speed at a 25,000-foot service ceiling.

Northeast Commuter Service:

Although Gateway Airlines was the first to provide northeast commuter service from the then-fledgling airport in Islip, many carriers followed in the ensuing decades-this time from the new oval passenger terminal that replaced the original rectangular one.

One of the early ones was Pilgrim Airlines, which operated two nonstops to Albany, one to Groton/New London, two to New Haven, and a single frequency to Washington-National, principally with de Havilland of Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.

Incorporating the rugged simplicity of its predecessor, the single-engine DHC-3 Otter, designed for remote, unprepared field operations often in the bush, it retained its basic high wing configuration and many of its wing and fuselage components, but introduced double the number of powerplants. Featuring a greater, 51.9-foot overall length to facilitate the installation of up to 20 seats divided by an aisle, a 65-foot span with double-slotted trailing edge flaps, and a redesigned nose and tail, it still employed the Otter’s fixed, tricycle undercarriage and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability.

Powered by two 652-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-27 engines, it first flew on May 20, 1965. Its three versions included the DHC-6-200 with a longer nose for increased baggage space, and the DHC-6-300, which had a 210-mph maximum speed and 12,500-pound gross weight.

Other than the Fokker F.27 Friendship, the DHC-6 Twin Otter became Pilgrim’s workhorse, making the 20-minute hop across Long Island Sound from Islip to New Haven. On the December 1, 1985 cover of its system timetable, it advertised, “New nonstops to Washington and New Haven.”

Connecticut competition from NewAir, which was originally designated New Haven Airways, offered identical service. Based at Tweed New Haven Airport, it advertised itself as “Connecticut’s Airline Connection,” but utilized low-wing, equally-sized Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante commuter aircraft.

Named after the Brazilians who explored and colonized the western portion of the country in the 17th century, the conventional design, with two three-bladed turboprops and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, accommodated between 15 and 18 passengers. It was the first South American commercial aircraft to have been ordered by European and US carriers.

Originally sporting circular passenger windows and powered by PT6A-20 engines, it entailed a three-prototype certification program, each aircraft respectively first taking to the air on October 28, 1968, October 19, 1969, and June 26, 1970. Although initially designated the C-95 when launch-ordered by the Brazilian Air Force (for 60 of the type), the EMB-110 was certified two years later on August 9.

Powered by PT6A-27 engines, production aircraft featured square passenger windows, a 50.3-foot wingspan, a forward, left air stair door, and redesigned nacelles so that the main undercarriage units could be fully enclosed in the retracted position.

Designated EMB-110C and accommodating 15, the type entered scheduled service with Transbrasil on April 16, 1973 and it was integral in filling its and VASP’s feederline needs.

Six rows of three-abreast seats with an offset aisle and 12,345-pound gross weights characterized the third level/commuter EMB-110P version, while the longer fuselage EMB-110P2, first ordered by French commuter carrier Air Littoral, was powered by uprated, 750-shp PT6A-34s and offered seating for 21.

According to NewAir’s September 1, 1983 timetable, it served the eight destinations of Baltimore, Islip, New Haven, New London, Newark, New York-La Guardia, Philadelphia, and Washington-National. From Long Island MacArthur itself, it offered two daily departures to Baltimore, two to New Haven, and one to New London.

Air service was also offered to neighboring state Rhode Island by Newport State Airport based National Air. “All flights are operated with 22-passenger CASA C-212-200 aircraft, providing National Air’s passengers with widebody, stand-up headroom comfort,” it advertized. “In-flight service (beverage only) is provided on all flights by courteous flight attendants.”

Designed by Construcciones Aeronautics SA (CASA) as a multi-role transport for the Spanish Air Force, the high-wing, dual-engine, fixed tricycle undercarriage design sported porthole-shaped passenger windows, a dorsal fin, and a rear loading ramp that led to the uninterrupted, box-shaped cabin. Its civil application was nevertheless considered from design inception.

Intended as a replacement for the Spanish Air Force’s now antiquated Junkers Ju.52/3ms, Douglas DC-3s, and CASA 207 Azors, it was powered by two 776-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331 turboprops. Two prototypes, first flying on March 26 and October 23 of 1971, preceded the first production example, which took to the sky a year later on November 17.

In military guise, it was operated as a paratrooper, an air ambulance, a freighter, a crew trainer, and a photo surveyor, while its commercial counterpart, the C-212C, accommodated 19 passengers.

The C-212-200, with a 44.9-foot overall length, 62.4-foot wingspan, 900-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-10-501C engines, a 219-mph cruise speed, a 28,000-foot service ceiling, and a 16,093-pound gross weight, had a 470-mile range with its maximum fuel.

By the end of 1981, 292 civil and military Aviocars had been in operation in 27 countries.

From Islip, National Air operated three daily departures to Newport to the east with continuing service to Providence and Boston and three to New York-JFK in the west. Philadelphia was the only other destination in its minuscule route system at this time. Passenger check-in, like that of NewAir, took place at the Pilgrim Airlines ticket counter.

Another New England-served state from Islip was Vermont by appropriately named Air Vermont.

Based in Morrisville and established in 1981, it served 13 northeast cities,according to its October 1, 1983 timetable: Albany, Berlin (New Hampshire), Boston, Burlington, Hartford, Long Island, Nantucket, Newport (Vermont), New York-JFK, Portland, Washington-National, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Worcester. It also used the now-crowded Pilgrim Airlines facilities.

Its fleet consisted of Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftains and Beech C99s.

The latter, perhaps its “flagship,” was a development of the Queen Air business/executive aircraft, whose capacity was insufficient for commuter routes. Subjected to a fuselage stretch in 1965, which gave it a new, 44.7-foot overall length, it was now able to accommodate 15 passengers arranged in single seats on either side of a central aisle. It featured an aft, left air stair door.

Powered by two 715-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-27 engines, yet resembling its Queen Air predecessor with its low wing, conventional tail, and retractable tricycle undercarriage, it received its FAA type approval on May 2, 1968. With a 10,900-pound gross weight and 283-mph maximum cruise speed, it had between a 530- and 838-mile range, depending upon payload-to-fuel ratios.

Commuter Airlines of Chicago inaugurated it into service. Although 164 B99s and B99As were produced, the C99, with a 44-cubic-foot eternal, under-fuselage pannier, provided a needed addition to the otherwise standard forward and aft baggage compartments. The latter, which marked the resumption of the type’s production in 1979, had uprated, 715-shp PT6A-36 engines and a 285-knot maximum speed at 8,000 feet. It first flew on June 20 of the following year.

National Air offered three daily nonstops to Newport with the aircraft departing at 0935, 1345, and 1850. All continued on to Albany and Burlington.

There were several other commuter carriers, which, like actors, both periodically and temporarily appeared on the MacArthur stage to collect passengers and transport them to northeastern destinations with an eye toward making a profit. Many did not.

Albany-based Mall Airways, for instance, in existence between 1973 and 1989, served 18 destinations in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia, along with operating trans-border sectors to Ontario and Quebec in Canada, although hardly all from Islip. A heavy New York state route concentration had it touch down in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Islip, Ithaca, New York-La Guardia, Rochester, Syracuse, and White Plains with a fleet of Piper Navajo Chieftains, Beech King Air 90s, B99s, and B1900Cs.

The latter, a stretched version of the Super King Air (which in high-density commuter configuration could carry 13), retained the same low wing mounting and t-tail, but its longer, 25.3-foot cabin, with a 425 cubic-foot volume, accommodated 19 with a central aisle. Intended for multiple-stop commuter routes, it was powered by two wing-mounted Pratt and Whitney Canada 1,100-shp PT6A-65B engines and could operate from grass and unprepared fields. First flying on September 3, 1982, it was certified the following year on November 22.

The more capacious B1900D, only the second 19-seater to offer standup headroom after the British Aerospace Jetstream 31, introduced a higher ceiling, greater internal volume, more powerful engines, modified propellers, winglets, a larger tail, and an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) cockpit.

Another New York State-based, Long Island MacArthur operator, reflected by its very name, was Empire Airlines and it flew, at least initially, B1900C-resembling equipment-in this case, the Swearingen Metro.

Founded in 1976 by Paul Quackenbush, it inaugurated service from Utica/Rome’s Oneida Country Airport, often to small cities that had been abandoned by Allegheny Airlines, and eventually touched down in the ten states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, and the two Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Mirroring the now Allegheny absorbed route system of Mohawk Airlines, the “Empire State” carrier served Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Islip, Ithaca, New York-JFK, New York-La Guardia, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, White Plains, and Utica/Roma.

Although it operated 13 Fokker F.28-4000 Fellowship pure-jets between 1980 and 1986, six Metro IIs formed the backbone of its earlier turboprop fleet.

Itself a stretch of the six- to eight-passenger Swearingen Merlin IIIA executive aircraft, it introduced a longer fuselage, increasing its length to 59.4 feet from the Merlin’s 42.2 for accommodation of up to 22, but retained its engines, wing, and tail surfaces. Designed by Ed Swearingen for commuter operations, it first flew on June 11, 1970, designated SA-226TC.

Swearingen itself became a subsidiary of Fairchild Industries in November of 1971, resulting in the type’s San Antonio, Texas, final assembly.

Air Wisconsin became the first major customer.

The upgraded Metro II, powered by 940-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-3U-303G engines and introduced in 1971, replaced the original oval passenger windows with square ones, had a 43.3-foot wingspan, a 12,500-pound gross weight, and could cruise at 294 mph.

Empire operated three daily Metro flights to its Syracuse hub, departing at 0905, 1525, and 1830 and facilitating connections to Albany, Binghamton, Elmira, Ithaca, Montreal, Rochester, and Utica/Rome. According to its April 1, 1985 system timetable, “Flights 1 through 99 are operated with 85-passenger Fokker F.28 jets. Flights 100 through 999 are operated with 19-passenger Swearingen Metro II jetprops.”

After Empire was acquired by Piedmont Airlines in 1985, its Syracuse hub joined Piedmont’s own-that is, those in Baltimore, Charlotte, and Dayton.

Northeast carriers often made their imprints on the Long Island air field, fleeting though they were. Late to the scene, Windsor Locks, Connecticut-based Shuttle America, a low-fare, de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-300 operator, inaugurated service between Hartford and Buffalo, but soon touched down in Albany, Boston (in Hanscom Field), Greensboro, Islip (as of November 13, 1998), New York-La Guardia, Norfolk, Trenton, and Wilmington with its half-dozen aircraft.

Boston became the battleground for several independent commuter airlines. One of the largest carriers to connect Long Island with it was Ransome Airlines.

Founded by J. Dawson Ransome in 1967 and based at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, it commenced service that March with 11-passenger Beechcraft 18s, progressively expanding into a significantly sized regional carrier with a northeast route system. It operated both independently and aligned with major airlines for two-letter code-share feed, specifically as Allegheny Commuter, the Delta Connection, and finally Pan Am Express. It operated for 28 years.

Two aircraft were integral to its expansion.

The first of these was the Nord 262. Initially envisioned as a development of the dual-engine MH-260 Broussard, which had first flown on July 29, 1960 and which subsequently became the responsibility of state-owned Nord Aviation, it was modified with a pressurized, circular fuselage to permit three-abreast seating for 24, first flying in prototype form as the redesignated Nord 262 two years later on December 24, then powered by two 1,080-shp Bastan VIB2 turboprops. Three pre-production and a single production example, visibly distinguishable by its dorsal fin, ultimately partook of the flight test program.

Sporting a 63.3-foot length, a 71-foot span of its high wing, and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, it had a 23,370-pound gross weight and could cruise at up to 233 mph.

Lake Central Airlines, US launch customer with an order for 12, inaugurated the type into service in May of 1965, and the aircraft was transferred to Allegheny three years later upon Lake Central’s acquisition. They were subsequently operated by the Allegheny Commuter consortium.

Because its French powerplants hindered further US sales, it was retrofitted with five-bladed, 1,180-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-45As and updated systems, and redesignated the Mohawk M-298 to reflect the FAR 298 airworthiness regulations that governed its operation.

First flying on January 7, 1975, it entered service two years later with Allegheny Commuter, of which Ransome was a member.

The other major type in its fleet, perhaps then considered the “granddaddy” of the early commuter turboprops, was the de Havilland of Canada DHC-7.

Resembling, in overall configuration, the DHC-6 Twin Otter, it featured an 80.8-foot overall length; a high, straight wing with a 93-foot span; four 1,120-shp PT6A-50 turboprop engines; a sizeable dorsal fin; a t-tail; a retractable tricycle undercarriage; and accommodation of 54 four-abreast passengers in a wide-look cabin with a galley and a lavatory.

Intended for short takeoff and landing operations from fields as short as 2,000 feet-and, in fact, was able to operate from the runway stubs at Washington National Airport without requiring a specific landing slot-it generated high lift by means of the five-bladed, slow-turning propellers, that bathed the airfoils’ upper surface and eliminated the need for leading edge devices. Aside from reducing external and internal cabin noise levels, it facilitated steep, controlled approaches.

Construction of two prototypes, preceded by Canadian government financial backing, commenced in 1972, and they first flew three years later on March 27 and June 26. The first production version, intended for launch customer Rocky Mountain airways, first took to the sky on May 30, 1977.

With an 11,350-pound payload and a 44,000-pound maximum takeoff weight, it had ranges between 840 and 1,335 miles, the latter with its full fuel uplift.

Ransome came as close as any other airline to establishing a mini-commuter carrier hub at Long Island MacArthur Airport with 23 daily M-298 and DHC-7-100 weekday nonstops, including three to Baltimore, six to Boston, two to Hartford, one to Newark, six to Philadelphia, and five to Providence.

In its October 31, 1982 system timetable, it proclaimed, “Rely on Ransome Airlines, American’s most experienced regional airline.”

Another, albeit much smaller, commuter carrier that provided Boston service was Precision Airlines. Based at Springfield State Airport in Springfield, Vermont, it operated Dornier Do-228-200s.

Very loosely based upon the Do-28D-2 Skyservant, a 12-passenger utility airplane, it equally sported a high-mounted “TNT Tragfluegels neuer Technologie” or “new technology wing,” consisting of a Dornier A-5 airfoil section with swept tips.

Powered by two 715-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-5 engines, it had a 54.3-foot length and a 55.7-foot span. Retracting its undercarriage main bogies into under-fuselage fairings, it had a 12,570-pound gross weight, 268-mph maximum cruising speed at 10,000 feet, and 715-mile, full-payload range.

Its two versions, the 15-passenger Do-228-100 and the 19-passenger Do-228-200, respectively first flew on March 28 and May 9, 1981.

According to Precision’s November 15, 1983 timetable, it offered three daily nonstops to Philadelphia and three to Boston from Islip, the latter continuing to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Another Boston service provider was Business Express Airlines.

Founded in 1982 as Atlantic Air, but stressing its business-oriented route system in its subsequently changed name, it expanded by acquiring some of the carriers that had independently served Islip, including Pilgrim Airlines in 1986 (which itself had already taken over NewAir); Mall Airways in 1989, which gave it access to the Canadian cities of Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa; and Brockway Air, also in 1989, which provisioned it with a fleet of B1900Cs and Saab 340s. The latter became its MacArthur (and northeast) workhorse.

As the first collaborative US-European design, it was jointly produced by Fairchild Corporation’s Swearingen subsidiary, which already had commuter airliner experience, and Swedish manufacturer Saab AB, which did not, traditionally having focused on the military sector, such as with its JAS-39 Gripen mufti-role combat design.

Turning its attention to a commercial application for the first time, Saab began design studies for a 30-passenger commuter turboprop. Because of the scope of the project, which would have been the largest industrial venture in Sweden, it sought a risk sharing partner, which, in the event, appeared as Fairchild. It would produce the wings, engine nacelles, and tail, while Saab itself would manufacture the fuselage and fin, and assume 75 percent of the program’s development, systems integration, and certification aspects.

Designated SF-340 (for “Saab-Fairchild”), the resultant aircraft, an aerodynamically clean, low-wing monoplane with a high aspect ratio airfoil and large-span single-slotted flaps, two 1,870-shp General Electric CT79B engines, and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, accommodated 34 passengers at a 30-inch seat pitch with an offset aisle, enclosed overhead storage compartments, a galley, a lavatory, and a forward, left air stair.

Featuring a 64.9-foot length and a 70.4-foot span, the aircraft had a 7,500-pound payload and 29,000-pound maximum takeoff weight capability. Typical initial block hour fuel consumption was 1,015 pounds out of the 5,690-pound total.

Redesignated Saab 340 after Fairchild withdrew from the program, with 40 airframes having been built, Saab became the sole manufacturer of it.

The Saab 340B, succeeding the basic 340A, introduced more powerful engines, an increased horizontal stabilizer span, higher weights, and greater range. The 340B Plus offered active noise and vibration control.

Business Express flew 23 S-340As and 20 S-340Bs. After the carrier was purchased by AMR Eagle Holding Corporation and became American Eagle on December 1, 2000, it continued to operate its half-dozen nonstops from Islip to Boston in the new carrier’s livery, although it ceased to independently exist itself.

As perhaps a smaller reflection of Business Express, CommutAir also offered Long Island-Boston service. Founded in 1989 and eventually serving 22 northeast destinations with 30 19-passenger B1900Ds, it dispatched three weekday departures to Boston, with the balance of its eight flights calling at Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.

Having operated as a US Airways Express and Continental Connection carrier, it surrendered its Boston frequencies to Colgan Air in time.

Code-Share Hub Feed Service:

Although several airlines inaugurated Islip service as independent operators, such as Ransome, Precision, Business Express, and CommutAir, they ultimately continued under two-letter code share agreements with major airlines from the Delta Connection to Northwest Airlink. Some inceptionally operated in this guise.

One of them was the Allegheny Commmuter consortium. “USAir and Allegheny Commuter-a great team to go with,” the carrier proclaimed in its advertising. “Service to over 120 cities in the US and Canada. All flights C500 through C1999 (listed in its system timetable) are approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board. These flights are operated with Beech 99, de Havilland Twin Otter, de Havilland Dash 7, Nord 262, M-298, Shorts 330, CASA-212, and Swearingen Metro equipment.”

Aside from Ransome, Suburban Airlines was a significant member of the consortium, initially operating Shorts 330 and later Shorts 360 aircraft.

Based upon the early-1960’s Skyvan, the former can trace some of its design elements to it. Characterized by a box-section fuselage for straight-in rear loading, a stubby, high-mounted wing, twin vertical tails, and a fixed tricycle undercarriage, it could carry up to 19 passengers or 4,000 pounds of cargo.

While the longer, sleeker Shorts 330 retained the Skyvan’s outer wing panels, it introduced a new center section, five-bladed PT6A-45 engines that replaced the previous Garrett AiResearch ones, a retractable landing gear, and a 30-seat, three-abreast interior with enclosed overhead storage compartments.

Launched after receiving UK government funding, the initially designated SD3-30 first flew on August 22, 1974 and was ordered by launch customer Command Airways in the US and Time Air in Canada.

The series 200, succeeding the 100, offered a 22,900-pound gross weight attained with more powerful, 1,020-shp PT6A-45R powerplants.

The Shorts 360, the ultimate development of the Skyvan and 330 lineage, had a three-foot forward fuselage plug, increasing its length from 58 to 70.6 feet, a tapered aft section with revised contours, a single vertical tail, enhanced cruise performance, and the addition of two seat rows, increasing capacity from 30 to 36.

First flying on June 1, 1981, it had a 25,700-pound gross weight and 243-mph high-speed cruise capability at 10,000 feet. Suburban Airlines was the launch customer.

Its ten-point route system encompassed Allentown, Binghamton, Buffalo, Lancaster, Long Island, New London/Groton, Newark, New York-JFK, Philadelphia, and Reading. In-flight service consisted of miniature trays of cheddar cheese spread, breadsticks, chips, and a beverage selection from the cart.

Its November 1, 1985 timetable listed four weekday nonstops to Boston and five to Philadelphia from Islip.

Another early-if not the first-commuter-main carrier cooperation was that between Henson and Allegheny Commuter.

Formed in 1961 by Richard A. Henson as Henson Aviation, a fixed base operator in Hagerstown, Maryland, it inaugurated a scheduled route to Washington the following year under the “Hagerstown Commuter” name. Inaugurating two-letter code share service as an Allegheny Commuter carrier five years later, it operated 15-passenger Beech 99s.

Headquartered in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1968, it maintained a tri-point route system, encompassing Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington and introduced cabin attendant service with the acquisition of Shorts 330 aircraft, succeeding it with de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-100s.

Resembling its DHC-7 predecessor, but sporting two instead of four powerplants, the 37-passenger Dash 8 was powered by 1,800-shp PW120s and their elongated nacelles provided stowage for the aircraft’s rearward retracting main undercarriage struts. With a 73-foot length and an 84.11-foot wingspan, whose center section was rectangular, but whose outboard sections featured taper and dihedral, it had a 34,500-pound gross weight and 310-mph speed.

Registered C-GDNK, it first flew in prototype form on June 20, 1983 and was delivered to launch customer NorOntair on October 23 of the following year.

Before operating its own DHC-8-100s, Henson, which had been rebranded “Henson, The Piedmont Regional Airline” after Piedmont’s agreement with it, fielded two daily B99s (flights 1710 and 1719) and three daily Shorts 330s (flights 1502, 1528, and 1539) to Piedmont’s Baltimore hub, with connections to Charlottesville, Hagerstown, Newport News, Norfolk, Ocean City, Richmond, Roanoke, Salisbury, Shenandoah Valley, and Washington-National, according to its January 15, 1984 timetable.

Another major carrier-aligned regional, operating aircraft in its major’s livery, using its two-letter code, and partaking of a joint marketing agreement for the purposes of hub feed, was Atlantic Coast, which assumed the profile of United Express.

The agreement, concluded on December 15, 1989, ensured secondary city funneling into United’s Chicago-O’Hare and Washington-Dulles hubs with several commuter aircraft-the Jetstream 31, the Jetstream 41, the DHC-8, and the EMB-120 among them. It was the latter type that it operated into Islip.

Building upon the foundation created by the EMB-110 Bandeirante, the EMB-120, a low-wing, circular-fuselage, t-tail design optimized for 30 three-abreast passengers, was hatched from Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica S. A.’s Sao Jose dos Campos facility in Sao Paulo. Powered by two 1,800-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PW118 or -118A engines, it had a maximum, 298-knot speed and a 30,000-foot service ceiling.

Ideal for commuter sectors, it attracted considerable US sales, including 62 from ASA Atlantic Southeast Airlines, 40 from Comair, 70 from SkyWest, 35 from WestAir, and 34 from Texas Air.

Atlantic Coast’s October 31, 1990 timetable stated, “The following carrier has a cooperative agreement with United, offering expanded destinations, coordinated schedules, and the same travel service featured on United. Applicable carrier and United flight range: Atlantic Coast/United Express: Flight numbers UA3570-UA3739.”

Its four daily flights to Washington-Dulles departed at 0645, 1200, 1450, and 1800.

Although not offering much major carrier feed, another code share operator from Long Island MacArthur was Metro Air Northeast, which assumed the identify of TWExpress, dispatching five daily nonstops with Saab 340 aircraft at 0630, 0915, 1250, 1605, and 1825 to Albany with “7000” flight numbers. The first departure, for instance, was TW 7941.

Its December 1, 1990 timetable advertised, “The shortest distance between you and TWA” and “Your commuter connection to TWA.”

Last Commuter Carrier Operation:

Change, the result of market conditions, was the only constant. But as fuel and operational costs increased, the number of daily commuter flights and the mostly northeast cities they served decreased. Consequently, as the airline players disappeared, so, too, did the passengers.

Like a ghost town of commuter operations whose only propeller sounds were those in the minds of the passengers who remembered them, Long Island MacArthur Airport became the stage for a final attempt at restoring them in the guise of Alaska-based PenAir.

Taking advantage of the FAA’s Air Carrier Incentive Plan, which entailed reduced fees to entice new entrants to begin flights in underserved markets, it replaced the Boston service vacated by American Eagle in 2008 by inaugurating two daily Saab 340 departures, at 0840 and 1910, with one-way, $119 introductory fares, citing Islip a logical extension to its three-point route system of Bar Harbor, Presque Isle, and Plattsburgh. Yet logic did not always equal profitability and after a valiant year’s effort, the carrier was left without choice but to discontinue the service due to low load factors.

After the multitude of commuter airlines had opened the passenger floodgates at Long Island MacArthur Airport during a more than five-decade period, PenAir closed them. At the dawn of 2020, there was not a single propeller providing scheduled service to be heard.