The terminal of Long Island MacArthur Airport was packed with people on Tuesday night.
They weren't flying anywhere, but instead were on hand for a public workshop about the future of the Ronkonkoma airport.
In an unusual move Islip Town officials decided, with the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration, to seek public input at the beginning stages of developing a long-term master plan.
Town Supervisor Tom Croci, in his first year in office, called the move a "proactive step" to allow residents as much say as possible in how the airport develops in the future.
More than 100 residents turned out for the workshop, and they had a chance to review a number of concepts, including a possible light rail service between the airport and the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station, developed by Landrum and Brown, the airport's planning consultants.
Several residents spoke of potential conflicting interests, namely the desire for growth at the airport and concerns about noise and quality-of-life issues.
"I'm willing to bite the bullet a little if it won't ruin our suburbia," said Joan, of Bohemia, of the Town's desire to court new airlines. "I don't want it to turn into Queens. That's why I left Queens."
Sue Luadato, of Ronkonkoma, said she's called the Town in the past to complain about noise from planes and helicopters near the airport.
"Leave it the way it is," said Luadato, who also expressed concerns that a plan to extend a runway at the airport will lead to larger planes using it, and thus create more noise. "Maybe bring in one more carrier."
Town officials countered airplanes these days leave much smaller "noise footprints," producing about one-sixth of the noise that planes in the 80s and 90s did.
Luring another airline to the airport, which is now served by just Southwest and US Airways, remains the top priority going forward, according to Terry Hennessey, the acting commissioner of the airport.
Currently the airport has 22 flights a day, and that includes two new direct flights to Washington DC, operated by US Airways. That's half the number the airport flew at its peak in the mid-2000s.
Hennessey was deputy aviation commissioner in March before stepping in as commissioner when the Town Board voted to fire Teresa Rizzuto last month.
Asked if the airport can survive with just one major carrier (Southwest), Hennessey said, "It can survive for a time, but we're not making nearly as much money as when we had 80 flights."
The Town has been flirting for years with other carriers, from JetBlue to Air Canada, but as of now, the airport continues to operate well below capacity.
"It's very important that we get another carrier in here," Hennessey said. "I won't lie to you; it's a tough sell."
One option under consideration as part of the master plan is to extend another runway at the airport to 7,000 feet.
The goal of that move wouldn't be to draw larger planes to the airport, but to give pilots and air traffic controllers more flexibility in poor weather, Hennessey said.
The big prize for Town officials, though, is turning people like Rob Ledogar into frequent MacArthur fliers.
He lives right next door to MacArthur in Bohemia, but Ledogar flies out of Kennedy four to six times a year. He's taken off from MacArthur just once on a trip to Las Vegas. Today there are no longer any direct flights to Las Vegas from MacArthur.
"I'd rather they add more flights so I don't have to go out of JFK," said Ledogar, who added he wasn't worried about increased noise.
The Town plans to continue to solicit input from the public in the coming months, with the master plan likely slated for FAA approval early next year.
Town Councilman Steve Flotteron said officials have no desire to turn MacArthur into a large airport, but the economic benefits of more flights, from new jobs to higher profits for local hotels, are immense.
"Staying the same, we die on the vine," said Flotteron, later adding, "If we don't have a healthy airport, then taxpayers might have to bail it out."
"We have to be a little more than a gateway to Florida here," Flotteron said.
See the PDF to the right of this article to view all of the preliminary concepts presented at Tuesday's workshop.