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The Commuter Airlines of Long Island MacArthur Airport
Although commuter airline operations, conducted by a variety of almost-exclusively turboprop aircraft that accommodated between 19 and 50 passengers,augmented Long Island MacArthur Airport’s six-and-a-half decade scheduled service history, they were integral to its development as a regional airfield, providing both origin-and-destination and connecting, major-carrier aligned, two-letter code share links to many northeast cities with equipment optimized for sector length, demand, capacity, frequency, and cost.
These services can be subdivided into “Initial Service,” “Area-Airport Shuttles,” “Northeast Commuter Service,” “Code-Share Hub Feed,” and “Last Commuter Carrier Operation” categories.
Initial, scheduled service, inaugurated shortly after the airport’s 5,000-square-foot, rectangular-shaped terminal was completed, entailed a tri-city route system, connecting Long Island with Boston, Newark, and Washington, and operated in 1959 by Gateway Airlines with de Havilland DH.104 Dove and DH.114 Heron aircraft.
The former, a conventional low-wing monoplane with a 57-foot span and two de Havilland Gipsy Queen 70 Mk 3 six-cylinder, air-cooled, in-line piston engines rated at 400 hp, was designed to meet the Brabazon Committee’s Type VB specifications for a post-war mini- or commuter-airliners, but nevertheless incorporated several “large aircraft” advancements, including all-metal Redux bonding construction, geared and supercharged powerplants, braking propellers, power operated trailing edge flaps, and a tricycle undercarriage configuration.
Resembling it, its DH.114 Heron successor, seating between 14 and 17 in an 8.6-foot longer cabin, was powered by four 250-hp Gipsy Queen 30 Mk 2 piston engines and had a 13,500-pound gross weight, whose lift was facilitated by a 71.6-foot wingspan. It first flew in prototype form on May 10, 1950.
Inauspicious and short-lived, the Gateway Airlines flights, only lasting eight months, nevertheless served as the aerial threshold to Long Island MacArthur’s future northeast commuter operations.
While Gateway’s Newark service paved the way to other, similar area-airport shuttles, it demonstrated that if Long Island MacArthur could not offer further-afield service on its own, it could provide quick-hop connections to other, more established New York airports that could.
One such attempt, although a little longer in duration, occurred between 1979 and 1980 with Nitlyn Airways, whose Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftains tried to feed TWA’s flights at JFK.
Intended as a successor to the company’s PA-23-250 twin piston private and executive Aztec, the Navajo had a 34.6-foot length and 40.8-foot span. Powered by two 425-hp Lycoming TIGO-541-E1A six-cylinder, horizontally opposed engines, it had a 7,800-pound gross weight and 1,285-mile range, and could be configured with various standard, commuter, and business seating arrangements for up to eight, who boarded by means of an aft, left air stair door.
Much later in MacArthur’s history, another carrier, enjoying greater longevity and success, linked the Long Island airfield with Newark International Airport. In this case, the airline was Brit, which operated under a Continental Express code-share agreement for the purpose of feeding Continental’s mainline flights and the equipment encompassed the very modern ATR-42-300.
This design, which has yet to be usurped by a more advanced turboprop in 2020, remains one of the two premier regional airliners.
Following the latest intra-European cooperation trend, the French Aerospatiale and Italian Aeritalia aerospace firms elected to collaborate on a regional airliner that combined design elements of their respective, once-independent AS-35 and AIT-230 proposals.
Redesignated ATR-42-the letters representing the French “Avions de Transport Regional” and “Aerei di Trasporto Regionale” and the number reflecting the average seating capacity-the high-wing, twin-turboprop, not-quite-t-tail with its main undercarriage bogies retracting into fuselage underside blisters, was powered by two 1,800-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PW120 engines when it first flew as the ATR-42-200 on August 16, 1984. The production version, the ATR-42-300, featured uprated, 2,000-shp powerplants.
Of modern airliner design, it accommodated up to 49 four-abreast passengers with a central aisle, overhead storage compartments, a flat ceiling, a galley, and a lavatory.
Granted its French and Italian airworthiness certificate in September of 1985 after final assembly in Toulouse, France, it entered scheduled service four months later on December 9 with Air Littoral. With a 37,300-pound maximum takeoff weight, it had a 265-knot maximum speed at a 25,000-foot service ceiling.
Northeast Commuter Service:
Although Gateway Airlines was the first to provide northeast commuter service from the then-fledgling airport in Islip, many carriers followed in the ensuing decades-this time from the new oval passenger terminal that replaced the original rectangular one.
One of the early ones was Pilgrim Airlines, which operated two nonstops to Albany, one to Groton/New London, two to New Haven, and a single frequency to Washington-National, principally with de Havilland of Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.
Incorporating the rugged simplicity of its predecessor, the single-engine DHC-3 Otter, designed for remote, unprepared field operations often in the bush, it retained its basic high wing configuration and many of its wing and fuselage components, but introduced double the number of powerplants. Featuring a greater, 51.9-foot overall length to facilitate the installation of up to 20 seats divided by an aisle, a 65-foot span with double-slotted trailing edge flaps, and a redesigned nose and tail, it still employed the Otter’s fixed, tricycle undercarriage and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability.
Powered by two 652-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-27 engines, it first flew on May 20, 1965. Its three versions included the DHC-6-200 with a longer nose for increased baggage space, and the DHC-6-300, which had a 210-mph maximum speed and 12,500-pound gross weight.
Other than the Fokker F.27 Friendship, the DHC-6 Twin Otter became Pilgrim’s workhorse, making the 20-minute hop across Long Island Sound from Islip to New Haven. On the December 1, 1985 cover of its system timetable, it advertised, “New nonstops to Washington and New Haven.”
Connecticut competition from NewAir, which was originally designated New Haven Airways, offered identical service. Based at Tweed New Haven Airport, it advertised itself as “Connecticut’s Airline Connection,” but utilized low-wing, equally-sized Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante commuter aircraft.
Named after the Brazilians who explored and colonized the western portion of the country in the 17th century, the conventional design, with two three-bladed turboprops and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, accommodated between 15 and 18 passengers. It was the first South American commercial aircraft to have been ordered by European and US carriers.
Originally sporting circular passenger windows and powered by PT6A-20 engines, it entailed a three-prototype certification program, each aircraft respectively first taking to the air on October 28, 1968, October 19, 1969, and June 26, 1970. Although initially designated the C-95 when launch-ordered by the Brazilian Air Force (for 60 of the type), the EMB-110 was certified two years later on August 9.
Powered by PT6A-27 engines, production aircraft featured square passenger windows, a 50.3-foot wingspan, a forward, left air stair door, and redesigned nacelles so that the main undercarriage units could be fully enclosed in the retracted position.
Designated EMB-110C and accommodating 15, the type entered scheduled service with Transbrasil on April 16, 1973 and it was integral in filling its and VASP’s feederline needs.
Six rows of three-abreast seats with an offset aisle and 12,345-pound gross weights characterized the third level/commuter EMB-110P version, while the longer fuselage EMB-110P2, first ordered by French commuter carrier Air Littoral, was powered by uprated, 750-shp PT6A-34s and offered seating for 21.
According to NewAir’s September 1, 1983 timetable, it served the eight destinations of Baltimore, Islip, New Haven, New London, Newark, New York-La Guardia, Philadelphia, and Washington-National. From Long Island MacArthur itself, it offered two daily departures to Baltimore, two to New Haven, and one to New London.
Air service was also offered to neighboring state Rhode Island by Newport State Airport based National Air. “All flights are operated with 22-passenger CASA C-212-200 aircraft, providing National Air’s passengers with widebody, stand-up headroom comfort,” it advertized. “In-flight service (beverage only) is provided on all flights by courteous flight attendants.”
Designed by Construcciones Aeronautics SA (CASA) as a multi-role transport for the Spanish Air Force, the high-wing, dual-engine, fixed tricycle undercarriage design sported porthole-shaped passenger windows, a dorsal fin, and a rear loading ramp that led to the uninterrupted, box-shaped cabin. Its civil application was nevertheless considered from design inception.
Intended as a replacement for the Spanish Air Force’s now antiquated Junkers Ju.52/3ms, Douglas DC-3s, and CASA 207 Azors, it was powered by two 776-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331 turboprops. Two prototypes, first flying on March 26 and October 23 of 1971, preceded the first production example, which took to the sky a year later on November 17.
In military guise, it was operated as a paratrooper, an air ambulance, a freighter, a crew trainer, and a photo surveyor, while its commercial counterpart, the C-212C, accommodated 19 passengers.
The C-212-200, with a 44.9-foot overall length, 62.4-foot wingspan, 900-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-10-501C engines, a 219-mph cruise speed, a 28,000-foot service ceiling, and a 16,093-pound gross weight, had a 470-mile range with its maximum fuel.
By the end of 1981, 292 civil and military Aviocars had been in operation in 27 countries.
From Islip, National Air operated three daily departures to Newport to the east with continuing service to Providence and Boston and three to New York-JFK in the west. Philadelphia was the only other destination in its minuscule route system at this time. Passenger check-in, like that of NewAir, took place at the Pilgrim Airlines ticket counter.
Another New England-served state from Islip was Vermont by appropriately named Air Vermont.
Based in Morrisville and established in 1981, it served 13 northeast cities,according to its October 1, 1983 timetable: Albany, Berlin (New Hampshire), Boston, Burlington, Hartford, Long Island, Nantucket, Newport (Vermont), New York-JFK, Portland, Washington-National, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Worcester. It also used the now-crowded Pilgrim Airlines facilities.
Its fleet consisted of Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftains and Beech C99s.
The latter, perhaps its “flagship,” was a development of the Queen Air business/executive aircraft, whose capacity was insufficient for commuter routes. Subjected to a fuselage stretch in 1965, which gave it a new, 44.7-foot overall length, it was now able to accommodate 15 passengers arranged in single seats on either side of a central aisle. It featured an aft, left air stair door.
Powered by two 715-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-27 engines, yet resembling its Queen Air predecessor with its low wing, conventional tail, and retractable tricycle undercarriage, it received its FAA type approval on May 2, 1968. With a 10,900-pound gross weight and 283-mph maximum cruise speed, it had between a 530- and 838-mile range, depending upon payload-to-fuel ratios.
Commuter Airlines of Chicago inaugurated it into service. Although 164 B99s and B99As were produced, the C99, with a 44-cubic-foot eternal, under-fuselage pannier, provided a needed addition to the otherwise standard forward and aft baggage compartments. The latter, which marked the resumption of the type’s production in 1979, had uprated, 715-shp PT6A-36 engines and a 285-knot maximum speed at 8,000 feet. It first flew on June 20 of the following year.
National Air offered three daily nonstops to Newport with the aircraft departing at 0935, 1345, and 1850. All continued on to Albany and Burlington.
There were several other commuter carriers, which, like actors, both periodically and temporarily appeared on the MacArthur stage to collect passengers and transport them to northeastern destinations with an eye toward making a profit. Many did not.
Albany-based Mall Airways, for instance, in existence between 1973 and 1989, served 18 destinations in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia, along with operating trans-border sectors to Ontario and Quebec in Canada, although hardly all from Islip. A heavy New York state route concentration had it touch down in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Islip, Ithaca, New York-La Guardia, Rochester, Syracuse, and White Plains with a fleet of Piper Navajo Chieftains, Beech King Air 90s, B99s, and B1900Cs.
The latter, a stretched version of the Super King Air (which in high-density commuter configuration could carry 13), retained the same low wing mounting and t-tail, but its longer, 25.3-foot cabin, with a 425 cubic-foot volume, accommodated 19 with a central aisle. Intended for multiple-stop commuter routes, it was powered by two wing-mounted Pratt and Whitney Canada 1,100-shp PT6A-65B engines and could operate from grass and unprepared fields. First flying on September 3, 1982, it was certified the following year on November 22.
The more capacious B1900D, only the second 19-seater to offer standup headroom after the British Aerospace Jetstream 31, introduced a higher ceiling, greater internal volume, more powerful engines, modified propellers, winglets, a larger tail, and an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) cockpit.
Another New York State-based, Long Island MacArthur operator, reflected by its very name, was Empire Airlines and it flew, at least initially, B1900C-resembling equipment-in this case, the Swearingen Metro.
Founded in 1976 by Paul Quackenbush, it inaugurated service from Utica/Rome’s Oneida Country Airport, often to small cities that had been abandoned by Allegheny Airlines, and eventually touched down in the ten states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, and the two Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Mirroring the now Allegheny absorbed route system of Mohawk Airlines, the “Empire State” carrier served Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Islip, Ithaca, New York-JFK, New York-La Guardia, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, White Plains, and Utica/Roma.
Although it operated 13 Fokker F.28-4000 Fellowship pure-jets between 1980 and 1986, six Metro IIs formed the backbone of its earlier turboprop fleet.
Itself a stretch of the six- to eight-passenger Swearingen Merlin IIIA executive aircraft, it introduced a longer fuselage, increasing its length to 59.4 feet from the Merlin’s 42.2 for accommodation of up to 22, but retained its engines, wing, and tail surfaces. Designed by Ed Swearingen for commuter operations, it first flew on June 11, 1970, designated SA-226TC.
Swearingen itself became a subsidiary of Fairchild Industries in November of 1971, resulting in the type’s San Antonio, Texas, final assembly.
Air Wisconsin became the first major customer.
The upgraded Metro II, powered by 940-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-3U-303G engines and introduced in 1971, replaced the original oval passenger windows with square ones, had a 43.3-foot wingspan, a 12,500-pound gross weight, and could cruise at 294 mph.
Empire operated three daily Metro flights to its Syracuse hub, departing at 0905, 1525, and 1830 and facilitating connections to Albany, Binghamton, Elmira, Ithaca, Montreal, Rochester, and Utica/Rome. According to its April 1, 1985 system timetable, “Flights 1 through 99 are operated with 85-passenger Fokker F.28 jets. Flights 100 through 999 are operated with 19-passenger Swearingen Metro II jetprops.”
After Empire was acquired by Piedmont Airlines in 1985, its Syracuse hub joined Piedmont’s own-that is, those in Baltimore, Charlotte, and Dayton.
Northeast carriers often made their imprints on the Long Island air field, fleeting though they were. Late to the scene, Windsor Locks, Connecticut-based Shuttle America, a low-fare, de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-300 operator, inaugurated service between Hartford and Buffalo, but soon touched down in Albany, Boston (in Hanscom Field), Greensboro, Islip (as of November 13, 1998), New York-La Guardia, Norfolk, Trenton, and Wilmington with its half-dozen aircraft.
Boston became the battleground for several independent commuter airlines. One of the largest carriers to connect Long Island with it was Ransome Airlines.
Founded by J. Dawson Ransome in 1967 and based at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, it commenced service that March with 11-passenger Beechcraft 18s, progressively expanding into a significantly sized regional carrier with a northeast route system. It operated both independently and aligned with major airlines for two-letter code-share feed, specifically as Allegheny Commuter, the Delta Connection, and finally Pan Am Express. It operated for 28 years.
Two aircraft were integral to its expansion.
The first of these was the Nord 262. Initially envisioned as a development of the dual-engine MH-260 Broussard, which had first flown on July 29, 1960 and which subsequently became the responsibility of state-owned Nord Aviation, it was modified with a pressurized, circular fuselage to permit three-abreast seating for 24, first flying in prototype form as the redesignated Nord 262 two years later on December 24, then powered by two 1,080-shp Bastan VIB2 turboprops. Three pre-production and a single production example, visibly distinguishable by its dorsal fin, ultimately partook of the flight test program.
Sporting a 63.3-foot length, a 71-foot span of its high wing, and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, it had a 23,370-pound gross weight and could cruise at up to 233 mph.
Lake Central Airlines, US launch customer with an order for 12, inaugurated the type into service in May of 1965, and the aircraft was transferred to Allegheny three years later upon Lake Central’s acquisition. They were subsequently operated by the Allegheny Commuter consortium.
Because its French powerplants hindered further US sales, it was retrofitted with five-bladed, 1,180-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-45As and updated systems, and redesignated the Mohawk M-298 to reflect the FAR 298 airworthiness regulations that governed its operation.
First flying on January 7, 1975, it entered service two years later with Allegheny Commuter, of which Ransome was a member.
The other major type in its fleet, perhaps then considered the “granddaddy” of the early commuter turboprops, was the de Havilland of Canada DHC-7.
Resembling, in overall configuration, the DHC-6 Twin Otter, it featured an 80.8-foot overall length; a high, straight wing with a 93-foot span; four 1,120-shp PT6A-50 turboprop engines; a sizeable dorsal fin; a t-tail; a retractable tricycle undercarriage; and accommodation of 54 four-abreast passengers in a wide-look cabin with a galley and a lavatory.
Intended for short takeoff and landing operations from fields as short as 2,000 feet-and, in fact, was able to operate from the runway stubs at Washington National Airport without requiring a specific landing slot-it generated high lift by means of the five-bladed, slow-turning propellers, that bathed the airfoils’ upper surface and eliminated the need for leading edge devices. Aside from reducing external and internal cabin noise levels, it facilitated steep, controlled approaches.
Construction of two prototypes, preceded by Canadian government financial backing, commenced in 1972, and they first flew three years later on March 27 and June 26. The first production version, intended for launch customer Rocky Mountain airways, first took to the sky on May 30, 1977.
With an 11,350-pound payload and a 44,000-pound maximum takeoff weight, it had ranges between 840 and 1,335 miles, the latter with its full fuel uplift.
Ransome came as close as any other airline to establishing a mini-commuter carrier hub at Long Island MacArthur Airport with 23 daily M-298 and DHC-7-100 weekday nonstops, including three to Baltimore, six to Boston, two to Hartford, one to Newark, six to Philadelphia, and five to Providence.
In its October 31, 1982 system timetable, it proclaimed, “Rely on Ransome Airlines, American’s most experienced regional airline.”
Another, albeit much smaller, commuter carrier that provided Boston service was Precision Airlines. Based at Springfield State Airport in Springfield, Vermont, it operated Dornier Do-228-200s.
Very loosely based upon the Do-28D-2 Skyservant, a 12-passenger utility airplane, it equally sported a high-mounted “TNT Tragfluegels neuer Technologie” or “new technology wing,” consisting of a Dornier A-5 airfoil section with swept tips.
Powered by two 715-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE331-5 engines, it had a 54.3-foot length and a 55.7-foot span. Retracting its undercarriage main bogies into under-fuselage fairings, it had a 12,570-pound gross weight, 268-mph maximum cruising speed at 10,000 feet, and 715-mile, full-payload range.
Its two versions, the 15-passenger Do-228-100 and the 19-passenger Do-228-200, respectively first flew on March 28 and May 9, 1981.
According to Precision’s November 15, 1983 timetable, it offered three daily nonstops to Philadelphia and three to Boston from Islip, the latter continuing to Manchester, New Hampshire.
Another Boston service provider was Business Express Airlines.
Founded in 1982 as Atlantic Air, but stressing its business-oriented route system in its subsequently changed name, it expanded by acquiring some of the carriers that had independently served Islip, including Pilgrim Airlines in 1986 (which itself had already taken over NewAir); Mall Airways in 1989, which gave it access to the Canadian cities of Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa; and Brockway Air, also in 1989, which provisioned it with a fleet of B1900Cs and Saab 340s. The latter became its MacArthur (and northeast) workhorse.
As the first collaborative US-European design, it was jointly produced by Fairchild Corporation’s Swearingen subsidiary, which already had commuter airliner experience, and Swedish manufacturer Saab AB, which did not, traditionally having focused on the military sector, such as with its JAS-39 Gripen mufti-role combat design.
Turning its attention to a commercial application for the first time, Saab began design studies for a 30-passenger commuter turboprop. Because of the scope of the project, which would have been the largest industrial venture in Sweden, it sought a risk sharing partner, which, in the event, appeared as Fairchild. It would produce the wings, engine nacelles, and tail, while Saab itself would manufacture the fuselage and fin, and assume 75 percent of the program’s development, systems integration, and certification aspects.
Designated SF-340 (for “Saab-Fairchild”), the resultant aircraft, an aerodynamically clean, low-wing monoplane with a high aspect ratio airfoil and large-span single-slotted flaps, two 1,870-shp General Electric CT79B engines, and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, accommodated 34 passengers at a 30-inch seat pitch with an offset aisle, enclosed overhead storage compartments, a galley, a lavatory, and a forward, left air stair.
Featuring a 64.9-foot length and a 70.4-foot span, the aircraft had a 7,500-pound payload and 29,000-pound maximum takeoff weight capability. Typical initial block hour fuel consumption was 1,015 pounds out of the 5,690-pound total.
Redesignated Saab 340 after Fairchild withdrew from the program, with 40 airframes having been built, Saab became the sole manufacturer of it.
The Saab 340B, succeeding the basic 340A, introduced more powerful engines, an increased horizontal stabilizer span, higher weights, and greater range. The 340B Plus offered active noise and vibration control.
Business Express flew 23 S-340As and 20 S-340Bs. After the carrier was purchased by AMR Eagle Holding Corporation and became American Eagle on December 1, 2000, it continued to operate its half-dozen nonstops from Islip to Boston in the new carrier’s livery, although it ceased to independently exist itself.
As perhaps a smaller reflection of Business Express, CommutAir also offered Long Island-Boston service. Founded in 1989 and eventually serving 22 northeast destinations with 30 19-passenger B1900Ds, it dispatched three weekday departures to Boston, with the balance of its eight flights calling at Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.
Having operated as a US Airways Express and Continental Connection carrier, it surrendered its Boston frequencies to Colgan Air in time.
Code-Share Hub Feed Service:
Although several airlines inaugurated Islip service as independent operators, such as Ransome, Precision, Business Express, and CommutAir, they ultimately continued under two-letter code share agreements with major airlines from the Delta Connection to Northwest Airlink. Some inceptionally operated in this guise.
One of them was the Allegheny Commmuter consortium. “USAir and Allegheny Commuter-a great team to go with,” the carrier proclaimed in its advertising. “Service to over 120 cities in the US and Canada. All flights C500 through C1999 (listed in its system timetable) are approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board. These flights are operated with Beech 99, de Havilland Twin Otter, de Havilland Dash 7, Nord 262, M-298, Shorts 330, CASA-212, and Swearingen Metro equipment.”
Aside from Ransome, Suburban Airlines was a significant member of the consortium, initially operating Shorts 330 and later Shorts 360 aircraft.
Based upon the early-1960’s Skyvan, the former can trace some of its design elements to it. Characterized by a box-section fuselage for straight-in rear loading, a stubby, high-mounted wing, twin vertical tails, and a fixed tricycle undercarriage, it could carry up to 19 passengers or 4,000 pounds of cargo.
While the longer, sleeker Shorts 330 retained the Skyvan’s outer wing panels, it introduced a new center section, five-bladed PT6A-45 engines that replaced the previous Garrett AiResearch ones, a retractable landing gear, and a 30-seat, three-abreast interior with enclosed overhead storage compartments.
Launched after receiving UK government funding, the initially designated SD3-30 first flew on August 22, 1974 and was ordered by launch customer Command Airways in the US and Time Air in Canada.
The series 200, succeeding the 100, offered a 22,900-pound gross weight attained with more powerful, 1,020-shp PT6A-45R powerplants.
The Shorts 360, the ultimate development of the Skyvan and 330 lineage, had a three-foot forward fuselage plug, increasing its length from 58 to 70.6 feet, a tapered aft section with revised contours, a single vertical tail, enhanced cruise performance, and the addition of two seat rows, increasing capacity from 30 to 36.
First flying on June 1, 1981, it had a 25,700-pound gross weight and 243-mph high-speed cruise capability at 10,000 feet. Suburban Airlines was the launch customer.
Its ten-point route system encompassed Allentown, Binghamton, Buffalo, Lancaster, Long Island, New London/Groton, Newark, New York-JFK, Philadelphia, and Reading. In-flight service consisted of miniature trays of cheddar cheese spread, breadsticks, chips, and a beverage selection from the cart.
Its November 1, 1985 timetable listed four weekday nonstops to Boston and five to Philadelphia from Islip.
Another early-if not the first-commuter-main carrier cooperation was that between Henson and Allegheny Commuter.
Formed in 1961 by Richard A. Henson as Henson Aviation, a fixed base operator in Hagerstown, Maryland, it inaugurated a scheduled route to Washington the following year under the “Hagerstown Commuter” name. Inaugurating two-letter code share service as an Allegheny Commuter carrier five years later, it operated 15-passenger Beech 99s.
Headquartered in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1968, it maintained a tri-point route system, encompassing Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington and introduced cabin attendant service with the acquisition of Shorts 330 aircraft, succeeding it with de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-100s.
Resembling its DHC-7 predecessor, but sporting two instead of four powerplants, the 37-passenger Dash 8 was powered by 1,800-shp PW120s and their elongated nacelles provided stowage for the aircraft’s rearward retracting main undercarriage struts. With a 73-foot length and an 84.11-foot wingspan, whose center section was rectangular, but whose outboard sections featured taper and dihedral, it had a 34,500-pound gross weight and 310-mph speed.
Registered C-GDNK, it first flew in prototype form on June 20, 1983 and was delivered to launch customer NorOntair on October 23 of the following year.
Before operating its own DHC-8-100s, Henson, which had been rebranded “Henson, The Piedmont Regional Airline” after Piedmont’s agreement with it, fielded two daily B99s (flights 1710 and 1719) and three daily Shorts 330s (flights 1502, 1528, and 1539) to Piedmont’s Baltimore hub, with connections to Charlottesville, Hagerstown, Newport News, Norfolk, Ocean City, Richmond, Roanoke, Salisbury, Shenandoah Valley, and Washington-National, according to its January 15, 1984 timetable.
Another major carrier-aligned regional, operating aircraft in its major’s livery, using its two-letter code, and partaking of a joint marketing agreement for the purposes of hub feed, was Atlantic Coast, which assumed the profile of United Express.
The agreement, concluded on December 15, 1989, ensured secondary city funneling into United’s Chicago-O’Hare and Washington-Dulles hubs with several commuter aircraft-the Jetstream 31, the Jetstream 41, the DHC-8, and the EMB-120 among them. It was the latter type that it operated into Islip.
Building upon the foundation created by the EMB-110 Bandeirante, the EMB-120, a low-wing, circular-fuselage, t-tail design optimized for 30 three-abreast passengers, was hatched from Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica S. A.’s Sao Jose dos Campos facility in Sao Paulo. Powered by two 1,800-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PW118 or -118A engines, it had a maximum, 298-knot speed and a 30,000-foot service ceiling.
Ideal for commuter sectors, it attracted considerable US sales, including 62 from ASA Atlantic Southeast Airlines, 40 from Comair, 70 from SkyWest, 35 from WestAir, and 34 from Texas Air.
Atlantic Coast’s October 31, 1990 timetable stated, “The following carrier has a cooperative agreement with United, offering expanded destinations, coordinated schedules, and the same travel service featured on United. Applicable carrier and United flight range: Atlantic Coast/United Express: Flight numbers UA3570-UA3739.”
Its four daily flights to Washington-Dulles departed at 0645, 1200, 1450, and 1800.
Although not offering much major carrier feed, another code share operator from Long Island MacArthur was Metro Air Northeast, which assumed the identify of TWExpress, dispatching five daily nonstops with Saab 340 aircraft at 0630, 0915, 1250, 1605, and 1825 to Albany with “7000” flight numbers. The first departure, for instance, was TW 7941.
Its December 1, 1990 timetable advertised, “The shortest distance between you and TWA” and “Your commuter connection to TWA.”
Last Commuter Carrier Operation:
Change, the result of market conditions, was the only constant. But as fuel and operational costs increased, the number of daily commuter flights and the mostly northeast cities they served decreased. Consequently, as the airline players disappeared, so, too, did the passengers.
Like a ghost town of commuter operations whose only propeller sounds were those in the minds of the passengers who remembered them, Long Island MacArthur Airport became the stage for a final attempt at restoring them in the guise of Alaska-based PenAir.
Taking advantage of the FAA’s Air Carrier Incentive Plan, which entailed reduced fees to entice new entrants to begin flights in underserved markets, it replaced the Boston service vacated by American Eagle in 2008 by inaugurating two daily Saab 340 departures, at 0840 and 1910, with one-way, $119 introductory fares, citing Islip a logical extension to its three-point route system of Bar Harbor, Presque Isle, and Plattsburgh. Yet logic did not always equal profitability and after a valiant year’s effort, the carrier was left without choice but to discontinue the service due to low load factors.
After the multitude of commuter airlines had opened the passenger floodgates at Long Island MacArthur Airport during a more than five-decade period, PenAir closed them. At the dawn of 2020, there was not a single propeller providing scheduled service to be heard.
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