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The History of Long Island MacArthur Airport’s Florida Service


While Islip’s Long Island MacArthur Airport struggled for identity and purpose during the first three decades of its scheduled service existence, with turboprop commuter flights to northeast destinations and pure-jet, trunk-carrier BAC-111-200s, DC-9-30s, and 727-100s to Albany, Washington-National, and Chicago-O’Hare with the likes of Allegheny/USAir and American, what was needed was a market that would produce consistent demand, putting the regional air field on the map. That market, not filled until the early-1980s, was Florida and it has remained its lifeblood ever since.

First to provide the vital Long Island-Florida link was Northeastern International Airways.


Long aware of the need to connect Long Island’s only commercial airport with both sunshine state retired parents and its beaches with winter tourists, Stephen L. Quinto, born in the Bronx in 1935, but raised on Long Island itself, combined deregulation with bottom basement aircraft leases and took the bold step of injecting Islip with its first nonstop Florida air service, specifically to Ft. Lauderdale, enabling residents to avoid the drive to and congestion of the major New York airports, particularly JFK and La Guardia.

The inaugural equipment, taking from as a single 185-passenger, all-coach configured DC-8-50 previously operated by Evergreen International Airways, departed on February 11, 1982, bound for Ft. Lauderdale. What may have become a luxury decades later, the low, unrestricted fares assessed to fly in it included baggage check-in and in-flight beverages and snacks. While it operated four times per week and once to Orlando, a second aircraft of the same type facilitated increased frequencies and destinations.

Passenger numbers, which affected airport revenues through concession fees, hovered at the 150,000-mark since Northeastern’s almost 11-month debut and pointed to promise for both the carrier and the airport.

Aircraft numbers also translated into additional destinations. In this case, two 128-passneger, former Pan Am 727-100s eventually facilitated seven daily departures to Ft. Lauderdale, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, and St. Petersburg, and the tri-jets were soon joined by a trio of long-range DC-8-62s. Markham Managed IT Services

Officials from the Town of Islip, which owned and operated Long Island MacArthur, were, to put it mildly, pleased, since 6,597 air carrier movements and 546,996 passengers were recorded in 1983 due in significant part to Northeastern and Quinto’s vision.

The following year, its February 9, 1984 system timetable bore witness to its success, with three departures to Ft. Lauderdale at 0840, 1600, and 1945; one to Orlando at 0950; two to St. Petersburg at 1000 and 1945; and one to West Palm Beach at 1515.

But success could sometimes be equated with smart, and Quinto’s Northeastern became too enthusiastic in breaking from its traditional narrow body Florida niche by leasing four 314-passenger widebody Airbus A300B2s and routing them, often in competition with incumbent carriers, transcontinentally from Miami to Los Angeles with intermediate stops in New Orleans, among other routes. Larger capacity 727-200s had also been acquired.

Indeed, by the summer of 1984, it operated 16 DC-8s, 727s, and A300s to 17 US cities on 66 daily sectors, recording the highest load factors, of 71.5 percent, of any US airline, enabling it to grow into the 18th largest domestic carrier as measured by revenue passenger miles.

However, passenger numbers at inadequate fares yielded losses and the inability to meet payments, prompting aircraft returns, service discontinuations, and employee layoffs, and forcing its January 3, 1985 bankruptcy filing with $28 million in assets and $48 million in liabilities.

Returning to its roots with a single no-frills Islip-Ft. Lauderdale segment, it progressively re-expanded to Orlando, St. Petersburg, and West Palm Beach. Fares as low as $49.00, however, could not sustain its financial lift, resulting in a four-month service suspension, during which Quinto made several last-ditch efforts to secure aircraft, including the lease of ten Braniff International 727-200s, those of United, and a single MD-82 from Alisarda. Some subservices were operated by All Star Airlines and Emerald Air with DC-9s

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