Town challenges 60-plus year agreement for pilots, Air Force auxiliary

Near tenfold usage fee increase proposed

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A “through-the-fence” (TTF) agreement recognized by the FAA and dating back to the 1960s and semi-formalized in the 1970s with annual fees between November Romeo LLC (on the Halstead property in Bohemia) and the Town of Islip for usage of a 500-foot taxiway for individually owned airplanes to taxi to MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma is currently under litigation between the private owner of the property and the town.

Currently, the town, after FAA inspection, has required paving of the roadway at a cost of $60,000, which current owner of November Romeo, Fred Coste, has agreed to complete.

The annual usage fee is approximately $3,000, which has been adjusted and increased each year at 3 percent since the agreement was finalized in the late 1970s. The town is looking to increase the fee to approximately $20,000 annually.

Current hangar renters, who pay a median price of $800 a month for T-shaped, individual hangars for mostly single-engine planes that seat two to four passengers, have argued against the sharp increase as they point out that FAA advisement stipulate airport usage fees must be “same or similar with fixed-base operators.”

Coste offered to pay a usage fee that was in line with the rates paid by fixed-base operators like Spirit or Frontier airlines based on comparable square footage rates, which would be significantly less than the quoted $20,000 fee proposed by the town.

The matter went to federal court six months ago when the town placed barricades on either side of the 500-foot taxiway and while not blocking the Halstead pilots from using the roadway, was perceived as an intimidation tactic by Coste and the pilots.

Coste filed an injunction, which resulted in the removal of the barricades.

November Romeo is home to 48 recreational pilots and is one of the few private hangar facilities on Long Island, with others on the North Shore of Suffolk County and out east in the Hamptons.

“These pilots donate their time, their aircraft, and all expenses to transport adults and children to faraway hospitals for treatment or surgery they can’t get locally,” said pilot Randy Sachs.

Sachs personally flew a young cancer patient’s mother from Boston to Virginia to be with her child when the family was unable to pay the costs of flying commercially.

Other pilots are also regular volunteers for Pilots for Paws, where they donate their time, fuel, and aircraft for the transport of adopted rescue animals across the country.

“I, myself, have transported dozens of animals, mainly dogs from kill shelters in the southeastern states, up to adoptive agencies or the adopter… recently, I picked up two rabbits from a town shelter in Central New Jersey and flew them to Syracuse, N.Y., to a non-kill shelter… again, all of these flights are absorbed by us,” said Sachs.

During times of natural disaster, private pilots are often called upon to deliver supplies and goods to areas where road access has been affected.

Sachs, during the public portion of the November town board meeting, spoke of the Halstead pilots who voluntarily delivered supplies to areas of Long Island that were inaccessible for vehicles in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Christopher Maione, another pilot with hangar space at Halstead, is a STEM+ Aviation mentor and helps high school students with interests in aviation learn about how to fly an aircraft and takes them up in his plane for hands-on training.

The Halstead property is also home to the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and provides services such as search and rescue, wild fire support, boating, and Coast Guard support, and national communications, and utilizes the disputed 500-foot taxi roadway solely to gain access to the airport.

“Our members selflessly devote their time, energy, and expertise toward the well-being of their community, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace education,” said Lt. Col. Louis Fenech, commander of the Long Island Civil Air Patrol.

The Civil Air Patrol submitted a formal letter in support of the Halstead Hangars and its pilots to the Town of Islip, as they also utilize the 500-foot-taxiway and would be unable to do so if pilots on the property are unable to do so.

“Civil Air Patrol has had a standing easement agreement which allows us to transit NR Property to access Hotel Taxiway.  This agreement was granted by Mr. Fred Coste of November Romeo LLD [Halstead Hangars], at no charge to CAP, and is essential to our mission,” wrote Fenech in his letter to the town.

Eastern regional manager for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Sean Collins, said that 71 percent of airports surveyed have waiting lists for their hangars, with 72 percent of aircraft owners waiting six months to two years to gain access to a hangar.

November Romeo’s pilots represent 21 percent of MacArthur Airport’s general aviation activity, which include an average of 150 flight hours annually and take-off/landing fees of over $10,000.

“AOPA is urging the Town of Islip to act swiftly to ensure reasonable access terms are secured to prevent the loss of an important aircraft hangar storage facility and the economic activity of 48 aircrafts,” said Collins in a formal statement to the town.

“Please realize, we are talking about a paved roadway 40 feet wide, less than a 1/10th of a mile long that connects Halstead to the airport,” said Maione. “What justifies the town retaining a high-priced Colorado-based law firm, wasting tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees, trying to negate an access agreement that has been in place for nearly 60 years?... Quit throwing away your taxpayers’ money on absurd legal fees and out-of-state attorneys, who, by the way, fly in on private jets.”

Islip Town declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.