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, Nashville limo service 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.