New LIMA flights rekindle LIMBA’s hopes

Upwards: New routes may help fulfill Long Island MacArthur Airport's economic promise -- if they're properly promoted.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Long Island MacArthur Airport is spreading its wings, and a longtime regional quality-of-life watchdog wants to make sure the airport’s climb doesn’t stall.

Long Island Metro Business Action, a three-decade-old Ronkonkoma-based member organization focused on Island-wide socioeconomic issues, welcomed LIMA Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken to its Aug. 11 networking breakfast, part of a 2017 Breakfast Series cosponsored by Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick LLP.

The commish, a former manager of Farmingdale’s Republic Airport who took Long Island MacArthur’s controls in summer 2016, delivered a positive assessment of LIMA operations. Among the high points: A daily commercial-flight scheduled that has nearly doubled in recent months, from roughly 16 to about 30.

And that’s before no-frills provider Frontier Airlines begins offering daily nonstop service to and from Orlando, Fla., this week – and before Frontier adds additional routes to its MacArthur schedule, including service to Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta, among other major U.S. cities.

The Denver-based airline is slated to commence LIMA routes to and from four additional Florida cities – plus New Orleans – in October, with further additions slated through Spring 2018. Some of the routes will be daily, some staggered, some even increasing to multiple flights per day during busy stretches, but all will help lift MacArthur Airport toward its one-time highpoint of 43 daily flights, and hopefully beyond.

It’s a rosy prognosis for the Town of Islip-owned airport, which according to LaRose-Arken functions on an annual budget of $14 million while generating roughly $600 million in local economic activity – a fairly spectacular return on investment for regional economic-development interests.

The commissioner noted an ongoing campaign to improve public awareness of the new MacArthur Airport destinations and audience members at the LIMBA event suggested their own ideas, including new promotional signage at the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma station and easier online access to LIMA flight schedules.

Promoting the airport’s expanding schedule is certainly on the mind of LIMBA Chairman Ernie Fazio, who is appreciative of – and enthusiastic about – MacArthur Airport’s economic potential, but wary about its real-world development.

Ernie Fazio: LIMA is cool beans.

There’s no doubting the socioeconomic importance, or unassailable convenience, of having a thriving national airport in the center of Long Island, according to Fazio. But LIMA has always suffered an identity crisis, a proverbial fourth child with three larger siblings hogging the limelight, not to mention the Greater New York airspace.

“I am troubled that all this may not happen,” Fazio told Innovate LI. “But I certainly think the effort is being put in.”

The problem, as the chairman sees it, is that too many providers are consolidating their New York operations at one of the three big brothers – John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark International airports – “without taking into consideration the convenience of this airport.”

“I do believe it represents more expense to the airlines to put people out here, when they can ram them into the already established airports,” Fazio said. “But, with a good public push and some sincere work on the part of [LaRose-Arken], I think we can get there.”

It’s an important Long Island issue from both economic-development and quality-of-life perspectives, added Fazio, who says since Islip-to-Chicago nonstop flights were terminated years ago, he’s been taking trains for his frequent trips to the Windy City, rather than deal with the headaches of traveling through LaGuardia or JFK.

“Most of my members live within 15 minutes of [MacArthur Airport],” he said. “There’s nothing more convenient than going to that airport, parking your car and getting on a plane.”

While LIMBA focuses on many quality-of-life concerns – the organization has already scheduled a water-quality roundtable featuring a marine biologist and several Long Island environmentalists for its Aug. 25 breakfast networker – some issues stand out, according to the chairman.

That definitely includes things like regional water quality – “essential to the economy of this county and this whole Island” – and the development of MacArthur Airport, Fazio noted.

“I’m there trying to make things happen at the airport because I believe they can,” he said. “It’s always been a challenge, but I think it can happen.”