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Long Island businesses see an opportunity to expand flights to Islip's MacArthur Airport

Courtesy of Town of Islip
Long Island MacArthur Airport

Some companies retreated from New York City to the suburbs due to the pandemic. Now, a survey of about 500 companies found there are big business opportunities to add more nonstop flights at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip.

For Bob Isaksen, a Melville native and market executive for business banking at Bank of America, that means more ways to bring business to Long Island.

“Business travelers much prefer nonstop air travel,” Isaksen said.

The MacArthur has three major U.S. domestic air carriers that currently provide service to 11 cities nonstop and connect to hundreds of destinations worldwide: American Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The survey found there is appetite to expand those offerings.

The survey was conducted in August and September by HIA-LI, one of Long Island’s largest business advocacy organizations. Terri Alessi-Miceli, the group’s president and CEO, said it found corporate travel budgets could potentially expand if MacArthur airport had more flights, which could generate more than $1 billion in new airport revenue annually.

“The dynamic has changed considerably,” Alessi-Miceli said. “Many people are working from home, others getting back to work in some sort of work setting, whatever that looks like. They're actually itching to get back [into] travel.”

“It's really: the consumer wins,” said Joe Campolo, the group’s immediate past chair and managing partner at the Ronkonkoma-based law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP, which ran the survey. He said Long Island businesses would be willing to pay more to fly direct out of Islip and avoid the inconvenience of driving to LaGuardia or Kennedy airports. “There will be ancillary economic advantages to the town and the airlines for sure.”

Campolo said the goal of the survey is to make sure that the region’s business community remains viable. He said the businesses relied heavily on travel pre-COVID, especially for trade shows, and weren't able to fly out of Islip as their airport of choice.

“One of the indicators right now, I think in a post-COVID world, is how much business travel is there actually going to be?” he said. “Zoom can only take you so far with clients, but meeting face to face is still an important part of business development.”

Credit Courtesy of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP
Courtesy of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP
The percentage of Long Island companies' travel budget that is spent on MacArthur Airport today.

The survey said increased corporate travel to and from Long Island would generate additional airport revenue. Without additional flights, these companies together spend an average of 36% of their overall travel budgets — about $2 million — at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

If the airport added more nonstop flights, the 504 respondents said that this percentage would go up to 79%, doubling their projected annual spending to $4 million.

The HIA-LI industry group said Nassau and Suffolk counties each has around 61,000 businesses with travel budgets, including the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge. The innovation park is the largest industrial park in the Northeast (second in the U.S. to Silicon Valley), which the HIA-LI represents. Their analysis of survey data found corporate travel spending would reach $1 billion in revenue.

Credit Courtesy of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP
Courtesy of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP
The percentage of travel budget spent on flights out of MacArthur Airport if more nonstop destinations were added.

The Town of Islip owns and operates Long Island MacArthur Airport, which serves about two million airline passengers a year. Campolo, also a member of the town’s airport advisory board, said the airport operates on a $16 million budget. More revenue would mean larger town coffers.

“They understand that Long Island MacArthur Airport represents an important asset and an economic engine for our entire region both now and in the future,” Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement.

“We wanted to really help the airport build momentum towards expanding. There's money out there that they could be getting,” said Alessi-Miceli, the HIA-LI president and CEO. “We want to show not only how business organizations were using flights, but what is the untapped potential — because there's a lot of it.”

In October 2020, officials started to renovate the airport’s ground transportation center, where car rentals, taxis, buses and shuttles take passengers to and from the airport. The latest service upgrade was in June, when Southwest Airlines expanded nonstop flights from Long Island to Nashville.

The airport received over $8 million from federal coronavirus relief funding a month later to renovate one of its major runways to prepare for additional service.

“We want this survey to send a strong message to airlines about the payoff they’ll receive by deepening their commitment to Long Island MacArthur Airport,” said banker Bob Isaksen, who’s a HIA-LI board member.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.