This article reviews the history of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, and discusses its many growth cycles and their associated airlines.
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.
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.