Southwest's Concrete Apron at Islip Must Be Removed

The deteriorating concrete apron outside the Southwest terminal at Long Island MacArthur Airport must be completely ripped out and replaced, a pavement consultant hired by the airline said in a report released Friday.

His report also warns Islip Town, which operates the regional airport in Ronkonkoma, that any delay in the repair "will affect aircraft operational reliability and safety."

Poor workmanship and a lack of quality control allowed water to seep into the subbase under the concrete, the report says. Later, freezing and thawing loosened the materials and weakened the apron's stability. In addition, the quality of the concrete is poor.

"The condition of the pavement ... is indicative of a 15-year to 20-year-old, rather than a 1-year or 2-year-old, concrete pavement," says the report, which was prepared by Roy D. McQueen Associates of Sterling, Va.

The $12.4-million apron was completed in 2004 as part of Southwest's $82-million expansion of the airport. Cost of the repair will easily top $10 million, according to airport officials.

Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan said Southwest, not the town, would pay for repairs. He said the town will pull Southwest's performance bond - insurance that pays the town if the construction is not completed satisfactory - if the airline does not move quickly.

"The bottom line is we have a concrete apron that is inferior and has to be replaced," he said.

Airport Deputy Commissioner Eric Hofmeister said work could begin "when the weather gets warmer."

Newsday reported last June that large cracks had appeared in the 5-acre apron, the area where planes pull up to the terminal. "The testing is complete," Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said in a statement. "Southwest is working with the town to determine the next steps in how best to address the issues with the apron. We intend to have a specific plan of action in the near future."

Eichinger did not comment on the possibility of the company's bond being pulled.

The cracks are considered dangerous because debris lodged in them can be sucked into airplane engines. Southwest's fleet is composed of Boeing 737s, an aircraft with a low-slung engine so noted for its tendency to pick up debris it has been dubbed "the vacuum cleaner" by pilots.

Moreover, cracks are a sign the concrete is not strong enough to carry the weight of planes taxiing on it, according to pavement experts.

PavCo, a Holtsville paving company, installed the apron. Company owner William Fehr Sr. did not return calls.

Steven Pinks, PavCo's attorney, said an earlier report commissioned by the town blamed the design, not construction. He added that any criticisms of workmanship or quality control were "completely absurd" because both the town and Southwest had inspectors checking the construction.

In August, Southwest filed suit against PavCo over the apron.

Company executive William Fehr Jr., 50, of Manorville, recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to rig bids on municipal paving contracts. William Fehr Sr., 69, of Eastport, was scheduled to plead guilty, but the sentencing was delayed because of illness. Prosecutors said the men were part of an "asphalt cartel" that cost Suffolk County and Brookhaven town millions of dollars.

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