By Mike Potts
Senior Contributing Editor, Pro Pilot
If World War II hadn’t unfolded as it did, the tiny Bayport Aerodrome (23N) might easily have evolved into the primary airport serving the approximately 3 million residents of central Long Island NY for airline and business aviation requirements.
Bayport Aerodrome (23N) could have become Islip (ISP)
Tracing its history to 1910, Bayport featured a single 2740×150 ft grass runway oriented 18/36, much as it does today. Then known as Davis Field, it was typical of many small airfields that grew into major airports as aviation developed across the US.
But in April of 1942, barely 4 months after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the US into the war, oficials in the Town of Islip NY were in a hurry and Davis Field was not in their plan. They contracted with the federal government to build a multi-runway complex intended for military use on a vacant 1311-acre field with no previous aeronautical heritage, located about 2 miles to the northwest of 23N.
Even with the urgency of war, the bureaucracy still had to function and it was several months before the Civil Aeronautics Board—pre-decessor to the Federal Aviation Administration—approved and funded construction of what would become Islip MacArthur Airport (ISP) under a program called Develop Landing Areas for National Defense (DLAND).
The runways and taxiways at Islip MacArthur Airport look very much as they did when the airport was built during WWII. Today ISP is a prime destination for business jets looking to avoid traffic delays associated with the airports closer to New York City.
Former Islip Town Supervisor Peter Fox Cohalan, who would later become a New York State Supreme Court Justice, recalls construction of ISP going on throughout most of 1943, and the town’s oficial history of the airport says Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built the irst hangar on the field in 1944.
Anecdotal reports have Lockheed military aircraft lying anti-submarine patrols from ISP along the coastlines of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, where German U-boats were known to operate. ISP was also used to train paratroopers in anticipation of D-Day and the invasion of Europe.
Named for legendary WWII hero and Medal of Honor recipient General Douglas MacArthur, ISP was well conigured in its initial layout to serve as a regional airport. As initially built, it had a 6000×150 ft asphalt main runway aligned 6–24, with secondary runways of 5036×150 ft aligned 10–28 and another 5186×150 ft and designated 15R–33L. A smaller parallel asphalt runway (15L–33R) is 3212×75 ft and accommodates lighter aircraft. Runway 6–24 was subsequently lengthened to its current 7002 ft size, and both 6–24 and 15R–33L were grooved to improve traction in wet weather.
After WWII ISP reverted to public use
At the close of the war ISP reverted to public use and the Town of Islip began looking for ways to maximize the value of its new aviation asset. An airline terminal was added in 1949 and town oficials launched what would prove to be an ongoing effort to attract and retain airline service at ISP, although airline service didn’t actually begin until regional airlines came into being in 1959. ISP’s greatest success in growing airline service came in 2004 when Southwest Airlines built a new terminal concourse and added 4 new gates to support growing operations. Further expansion in 2006 added another 4 new gates, and for a time ISP boasted scores of daily arrivals and departures.
The recession of 2008–09 saw airline service decline sharply, and by early 2016 ISP was served by only 2 airlines (American and Southwest) with just 12 daily departures and arrivals to destinations including BWI (Baltimore–Washington Intl), MCO (Orlando FL), PBI (Palm Beach FL), TPA (Tampa FL), FLL (Ft Lauderdale FL) and PHL (Philadelphia PA). American serves ISP with de Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprops while Southwest uses its ubiquitous Boeing 737s.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter has made airport redevelopment a priority and was proud to announce recently that a new carrier, Elite Airways, will begin service to ISP in June. Elite, based in Portland ME but with maintenance, crew training, sales and marketing in Melbourne FL, will provide service from ISP to MYR (Myrtle Beach SC), MLB (Melbourne FL), and PWM (Portland ME) using Bombardier CRJ 200s and 700s.
Rob Schneider, ISP’s deputy commissioner and dir of ops, says working closely with Angie Carpenter to recruit new airline service is a top priority, but he acknowledges that “This airport is a general aviation airport with commercial service, not the other way around.”
Improvements are coming
Major improvements are in the works for ISP. A new firehouse is under construction to replace a structure dating to the 1940s, when the airport was built. Plans call for Runway 15R–33L to be extended to 6000 or perhaps even 6500 ft. Going beyond that length would require the airport to acquire additional property, which Schneider says would potentially disrupt the airport’s cordial relationship with its neighbors—a step airport leaders are unlikely to consider.
ISP is located 9.3 nm from the Deer Park VOR on the 101 degree radial, just beyond the limits of the New York Class B airspace. It supports GPS, RNAV, ILS and NDB approaches. For light planning, it is on the New York Sectional Chart and the L-24, L-25 and L-28 low altitude IFR enroute charts. ISP is tower-controlled from 6 am to midnight and features pilot controlled lighting when the tower is closed. A weight-based landing fee schedule is in effect, beginning at $2 per thousand pounds for aircraft up to 12,500 lbs, with charges higher after 11 pm to discourage night operations. To facilitate training operations, which are extensive at ISP, only one landing fee is charged for aircraft performing touch-and-goes. For international arrivals, US Customs is available on the field.
3 FBOS – Hawthorne, Sheltair and Mid Island – serve ISP
FBO services are provided by Hawthorne Global Aviation Services, Sheltair and Mid Island Air Service.
Hawthorne is located on the westside of the field and is housed in a 120,000 sq. ft facility previously occupied by Garrett AirResearch, which had operated it as an engine overhaul facility. The Hawthorne name is comparatively new to ISP, but the business isn’t. It traces its roots to Eastway Aircraft Services which was started in 1985 by the father of current Hawthorne General Manager Rob Sherry. Eastway began its business focusing on light aircraft maintenance, which in the 1990s evolved into aircraft management under the name ExcelAire, kick starting its launch into the private jet charter industry.
The FBO was created in 2007 when the old Garrett facility at ISP became available, primarily to provide terminal facilities, fueling and a maintenance base for the ExcelAire charter operation. However, the business soon began attracting outside customers, and Hawthorne Global Aviation Services, an FBO acquisition and operating company based in Charleston SC, bought ExcelAire—including its Part 135 and Part 145 operating certiicates about 5 years ago. The activity then began operating the full service FBO under the Hawthorne name, with Shell branded fuel. ExcelAire continues to operate under its own name.
Rob Sherry says the synergy between all aspects of ISP’s operations is critical to both his business and the success of the airport, and notes that Hawthorne is now providing ground handling services to Elite Airways CRJs. The new carrier began operations on Jun 17. “Hopefully they’ll be successful and that will attract other airlines to ISP,” Sherry says. He praises the working relationship that exists between Deputy Commissioner Schneider and the business aviation operations on the field.
Mid Island Air Service has a rich history. Louis Mancuso established Deer Park Airport and Mid Island Air in 1946 as a training facility to teach WWII vets to ly. When real estate prices rocketed in the early 1970s the base was relocated to ISP. Today Mid Island is owned and operated by 2nd and 3rd generation Mancusos. It offers FBO services, charter, air- craft rentals and sales, mx and light training.
Sheltair came to ISP in 2007 when they acquired Long Island Jet Center, located adjacent to the airline terminal on the south side of the field. Since then Sheltair has made signiicant capital investment in property upgrades, and has emerged as the largest FBO operator on the field, with more than 200,000 sq ft of hangar space in multiple hangars and annual fuel sales in the million-gallon range. In addition to its corporate operations, Sheltair ISP is home to 1 helicopter and 2 fixed wing flight schools and is an AvFuel branded distributor.
Unlike many FBO chains, Sheltair is a real estate development and construction irm. It operates 3.5 mil sq ft of aviation real estate at 23 airports in Florida, Georgia and NY. The ISP operation is 1 of 17 Sheltair FBO locations, including 4 others in the region: JFK (Jamaica NY), LGA (Flushing NY), FRG (Farmingdale NY) and FOK (Westhampton Beach NY).
Expanding need for large jet hangar space
A game-changing event happened last year when New York State moved to exempt aircraft transactions from sales tax. Since then the demand for hangar space has grown signiicantly.
In order to keep up with the demand, Sheltair is developing a 25acre site on the west side of ISP that will include 108,000 sq ft of new corporate hangars consisting of 4 structures, each capable of holding 2 Gulfstream 650s or Bombardier Global 7000s. In addition Sheltair is renovating one of its existing hangars with taller and wider doors to accommodate the larger Gulfstream-series aircraft. “The growth we are seeing is clearly in the large cabin corporate aircraft market,” says Sheltair ISP General Manager Patricia Junge. “Years ago hangars would hold 10 Learjets or Citations,” says Sheltair VP of Business Development & Special Projects Bill McShane. “Now we build them to hold 2 large cabin bizjets because that’s today’s market.”
Hawthorne is adding a new 30,000 sq ft facility adjacent to its current location that will be capable of housing a BBJ or an Airbus ACJ.
Lighter trafic at ISP means faster in and out than TEB, HPN
While the 3 FBOs at ISP compete fiercely for corporate customers on the field, they are also engaged in a larger battle pitting ISP against the closer-in airports, speciically TEB (Teterboro) and HPN (White Plains) for New York City-bound business travelers.
Rob Sherry states, “If you fly into ISP at the right time of the day it’s a 55 minute drive west into Manhattan and a 35 min drive east to the Hamptons. The extra driving time seems insigniicant compared to the expected delays you’ll experience at surrounding airports. At ISP you’ll have no delays, lower fuel cost and our hangar space costs half what it does at TEB.”
And while ISP is experiencing renewed growth with expanding corporate light activity driven by the proliferation of large cabin corporate jets along with rejuvenated airline operations, less than 2 miles away at N23, the 2800-ft grass runway sees only an occasional operation and life remains much as it was in the 1940s when ISP was first conceived.