A Delicate Balance

TETERBORO, NJ — With a rich aviation history — at one time home to airplanes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart — Teterboro Airport here was once considered the busiest airport in the country with 1,000 daily operations. Today, says airport manager Lanny Rider, the airport sees some 200,000 operations annually, with 73 percent contributed to corporate jet activity. Its location, six miles from Manhattan, makes Teterboro integral to business aviation, even as communities have built up around the busy airfield. The challenge now, says Rider, is balancing airport and industry needs with the issues raised by surrounding communities, including air quality, safety, and noise.

The Port Authority purchased the once privately owned field in 1949 and operated it until 1970, when it leased it to PanAm World Services for a term of 30 years. When PanAm went out of business, explains Rider, the lease was sold to Johnson Controls, which operated the airport until the end of the lease in 2000. At that time, the Port Authority reestablished control of the airport.

Rider says it was a natural transition for the Port Authority to take back control of Teterboro. “Here in the metropolitan region, the Port Authority runs a system of airports... We felt that it was prudent at the time to move back in and exercise management control over Teterboro [to] run the system of airports as a four-airport system.”

Teterboro falls under the jurisdiction of three towns: Teterboro, Moonachie, and Hasbrouck Heights. It comprises 827 acres, of which a third are pristine wetlands and undevelopable. The airport is home to the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame Museum and five fixed base operations:

  • Signature Flight Support;
  • Million Air;
  • First Aviation Services;
  • Atlantic Aviation; and
  • Jet Aviation.

Some 38 million gallons of fuel flow through the airport each year. TEB has some 190 based aircraft, the majority corporate jets. The airport offers U.S. Customs and Immigration six days a week, two tours a day.

In addition to being vital to business aviation, Teterboro has direct employment of some 1,200 employees; direct, ancillary off-airport employment of some 5,000 people; 15,000 employees in the region with connections to the airport. The airport contributes some $670 million a year in direct sales and salaries to the local economy, as well as $1.8 billion into the region by various users of the airport.

At the Top of the List: Noise

“The unique programs that we deal with here really are orientated more toward the community and community acceptance,” explains Rider.

“Basically we have residential areas right up to the border of the airport.

“You try to develop a balance between the needs of industry and the air transportation system and the quality of life issues of those people that live their lives next to an airport.”

One way the airport has found success in community relations, explains Rider, is through a noise abatement advisory committee which meets quarterly and is comprised of elected officials from the 13 towns that surround TEB. “On a quarterly basis we have a way to come face to face with the community representatives, listen to their problems, tell them what’s going on at the airport, to keep them informed.”

The airport has a program to monitor aircraft noise. A series of microphones are placed in the communities surrounding the airport and then married up with radar data. If there is an issue with a specific operator or aircraft, it can be pinpointed and addressed. “We have very explicit data on all the aircraft operations coming and going from this airport,” says Rider.

Teterboro has a “three strikes and you’re out” program for noise violators. It basically states that if an aircraft operator violates the noise threshold more than three times in a two-year period, the aircraft can be banned from operating at TEB. The program was in place prior to the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, and thus was grandfathered. In addition, the airport has a voluntary nighttime operations restriction; a 100,000-lb. aircraft restriction; and, a ban on scheduled air carrier service.

In 2002, the Port Authority was successful in banning Stage 1 aircraft from TEB. Says Rider, “It’s time we did something about Stage 2 operations. We haven’t formulated a plan of what we should do, but somehow in conjunction with the FAA and the industry, we need to look at those operations.”

A study conducted at Teterboro shows that noise could be reduced by 50 percent by eliminating Stage 2 operations. “And they only represent less than 5 percent of our total operations,” adds Rider.

Rider would like to see better buy-in from industry on Teterboro’s voluntary night restrictions. Certain essential flights, including medical and bank operations, must occur at night and he says the community doesn’t usually complain about those. “But it’s the charter operator that elects to come in at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. here. What other alternatives do they have, and is there another way to accommodate them but maybe not right here at Teterboro, remembering that Newark is ten miles from here; LaGuardia is 12 miles? It’s not like you’re denying access to the region — you’re just asking them to be more selective about where they land.”

To further measure its impact on the community, Teterboro has air quality sampling monitors placed around the perimeter of the airport through which the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is conducting a study. Rider says the air sampling will run for an estimated 12-18 months before results from will be available. The air samples that are collected by the instruments is combined with traffic, weather, and aircraft data.

The study is a more in-depth follow-up to one conducted previously by Rutgers University. That study showed that the airport air quality was poor but no different than the air quality of northern Bergen County, where Teterboro is located. The study also showed that the airport was considered to be a minor contributor to that condition. The new study will focus just on the airport, and is funded by the Port Authority and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

2005: A Year of Incidents

For Teterboro, 2005 was an especially challenging year to maintain a good image with nearby communities. The airport had several high-profile accidents which caused locals to question more and more the safety of operations at Teterboro.

Local officials took up the cause, demanding a reduction in the number of operations at TEB. “Our own chairman of the Port Authority was called to Senate hearings in Trenton and was questioned about the safety of the airport,” says Rider. “He made some public statements about trying to reduce the number of operations through any number of ways.” However, adds Rider, FAA was quick to inform the Port Authority that some things it was proposing to limit activity were in violation of the grant assurances.

Teterboro officials began looking at ways to approach the situation by helping the communities to better understand the needs of the industry, and for industry to better understand the fears and reactions of the communities. The airport formed an industry working group, including the National Business Aviation Association, the National Air Transportation Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; several of the FBOs and operators at TEB; and the airport and Port Authority. “We’re hoping that from this group we get some out of the box thinking, some recommendations on how we can implement some voluntary programs that will again gain the trust of our community neighbors, alleviate some of the quality of life issues for them, but at the same time, still allow us to operate the way we need to operate,” Rider says.

Security - In the Shadows of the World Trade Center

As part of the PANYNJ airport system, Teterboro began investing heavily in security enhancements following 9/11. “The very first thing we did was ask the fixed base operators to limit access to the airfield to one gate at each facility and to put a guard at each one of those gates. So that anybody coming in from the street onto the airfield had to go through a guard post,” says Rider. In addition, all private vehicles were banned from accessing the airfield; a system for matching the pilot with the aircraft was developed; and, airport perimeter fencing was replaced, which alone cost some $3 million.

Today, TEB has its own Port Authority police force on-airport for security and crash/fire/rescue. A surveillance camera system allows Rider and other authorized personnel to view the entire airfield.

Even without clear direction from the Transportation Security Administration on what security enhancements might be required at general aviation airports, Rider says it was imperative that Teterboro move ahead with upgrading its security. “There are two main reasons,” he explains. “One, we are the Port Authority. We quickly recognized the type of aircraft operating in and out of here and the numbers and the fact that we’re only six miles from mid-town Manhattan. We just couldn’t wait on TSA.” The second major factor, says Rider, is that the airport and the Port Authority had the resources to do it. “We didn’t rely on federal funding to do what we needed to do.”

Rider estimates that some $5 million has already been invested in security at Teterboro since 9/11 and the airport isn’t finished yet. “We’re really just getting started,” he says. “Those were just the basic things; and now we’ll refine that and continue to improve it.” The Port Authority recently kicked off a system-wide, $100 million-plus program which sets aside $16.5 million for TEB perimeter intrusion detection systems, airfield surveillance radars, cameras, sensors, etc.

Teb’s Rehabilitation

In the past five years, Teterboro has undergone a redevelopment of infrastructure and tenant facilities. “The infrastructure was totally failing,” says Rider. “It had been 30 years since any major investment had been made in the infrastructure of this airport. So we’re literally rebuilding it ... from the drainage systems, taxiway systems, to the hangars and buildings — everything that’s on this airport, virtually, is being rebuilt at this point.”

A $100 million capital investment program has been responsible for much of the redevelopment, of which some $50-60 million has been expended to date. The tenants have also taken on some of the cost, while the Port Authority has provided some of the financing via the $100 million capital fund.

“Almost every tenant has some form of reconstruction going on,” says Rider. When the Port Authority assumed control of TEB, nearly all tenant leases were coming up for renewal, which gave the authority the ability to negotiate facility improvements into the new long-term leases.

One of the major projects at TEB has been the installation of a drainage system, done in conjunction with adding taxiways. Teterboro experienced a high number of runway incursions in recent years and one of the factors attributed to those incidents was the limited taxiway system. Once completed, the new airfield configuration is expected to reduce the number of required runway crossings by a third.

Among the tenant improvements, First Aviation is in the process of relocating from its current location, mostly for safety reasons, while Million Air and Signature recently finished new terminal buildings, along with other improvements. Atlantic Aviation built a new hangar and renovated its terminal.

Airport officials would also like to see the aging control tower replaced, and Rider says it’s on FAA’s list for replacement, though no funds have been allocated to date.