Port Keeping Teterboro
Just a few years ago, when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was looking at ways to streamline its operations, the executive director spoke aloud about selling Teterboro Airport.
But that plan came off the table for good yesterday as the agency's board took steps it hopes will usher the region's oldest airport into a new era.
Under the $25 million, five-year deal commissioners approved yesterday, the Port Authority will still let a private company manage Teterboro but the bistate agency will now keep all revenues so it can direct future investment, including some $100 million in improvements. American Port Services Inc., which also manages Atlantic City International Airport and other airports around the country, will receive a fee to operate Teterboro. The contract begins in September.
Howard Conant, of Glenview, Ill., is one reason the board wants more of a direct hand. Weary of the ordeal of flying on commercial airlines, the self-described investor hitched a ride on a nine-seat Dassault Falcon 20 that flew him and eight others from Chicago-Midway Airport to Teterboro last month. The trip took an hour and a half, or about 30 minutes less than flying a major carrier into Newark. It cost about $1,200, or about $100 more than a walk up fare on a major airline.
"It takes the hassle out of travel," Conant said, noting he took off soon after parking his car next to the terminal at little-used Midway and arrived in Manhattan 30 minutes after he landed. A car was waiting for him on the tarmac at Teterboro.
"The plane was wonderful but landing at Teterboro was a real treat," he said. "We flew right in and just taxied over to where the car was waiting."
Conant was a passenger on a plane owned by Indigo, a privately held company that began flying corporate jet charters into Teterboro from Chicago last February and will be expanding the service to other airports. It is among a number of companies that have expanded the market for aircraft that formerly flew just the corporate elite and the wealthy.
Companies such as Indigo, TAG Aviation and Executive Jet are allowing people with a little extra money to be as pampered as moguls. Indigo operates its own jets, while TAG Avation books customers on jets owned by others. Executive Jet sells time shares on corporate aircraft.
"The business jet has really come into its own in the last five to seven years," said Matthew Andersson, chairman and chief executive of Indigo, short for "individuals on the go." "More travelers like the access to close-in airports."
And you can't get any closer to Manhattan, or many of the Fortune 500 headquarters in New Jersey, than Teterboro, which opened in 1917 and had 185,244 flights last year, compared to 358,100 at LaGuardia and 454,400 at Newark.
"We call New York City the epicenter of the charter business in the world and Teterboro is the most convenient airport for business travel to New York," said Jim Christiansen, TAG's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
That is what makes it essential for the Port Authority to maintain control over the airport it has owned since 1949, said William DeCota, aviation director of the Port Authority.
Former executive director George Marlin's idea of selling could have tossed to the winds the Port Authority's long-standing philosophy that Teterboro serve as a "reliever airport." The idea is that Teterboro handle the smaller planes that would otherwise further clog congested Newark International Airport, the busiest airport in the region.
"It's very critical because, in addition to handling about 15 percent of the traffic of our four airports, it handles 75 to 80 percent of general aviation," DeCota said. "To the extent we can free up landing and takeoff spots at Newark, we can create all that activity essential to tourism and commerce, and that's a good thing."
While the agency's plans make sense for managing the nation's most-crowded airspace, they aren't always popular on the ground, where more noisy corporate jets overhead are big issues to Teterboro's immediate neighbors in Moonachie, Carlstadt and Hasbrouck Heights and elsewhere in Bergen County.
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9th Dist.), who represents the area, is sponsoring legislation that would impose an 11 p.m. flight curfew. Right now, as few as 10 and as many as 50 flights arrive or depart in the wee hours. He also wants all corporate aircraft to comply with noise standards observed by commercial jets, something that would hush about 20 percent of Teterboro's traffic. But Rothman said he also questions whether the airport is nearing its capacity, a matter he will be discussing with the Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey next month. He said limiting airport operations would be no more radical than a fire marshal closing off an auditorium when it reaches capacity.
"I'm born and raised in this area and am very mindful of the importance to the local economy of Teterboro Airport," Rothman said yesterday. "However, for safety's sake and for the sake of our quality of life, I believe Teterboro Airport is at or very near capacity."
DeCota said the Port Authority is intent on becoming a better neighbor. He said the agency is studying capacity issues and whether it could ever legally impose a curfew but it has already publicly endorsed the noise standards bill, he added.
DeCota said expansion of the 827-acre airport is unlikely because wetlands comprise much of Teterboro's remaining open space. That stymied a hangar project four years ago.
He said this year's repaving of one of the two runways will simply be that and not a prelude to a Port Authority rule change that would allow heavier jets, like the Boeing 737 model now being marketed as a corporate aircraft. The Port Authority is also intent on preserving the rule that bars scheduled service from Teterboro.
What the agency will do is allocate federal funds for soundproofing nearby schools, install sidewalks to the ballfields on Redneck Avenue, landscape and fence along Route 46 and pave a parking lot near the control tower so aviation buffs can watch the planes.
This will be possible under the $25 million deal with American Port, which will end the 11-year relationship the Port Authority had with Johnson Controls World Services Inc. to operate Teterboro. Under that agreement, the Port Authority got about $1 million a year on $12 million in revenues. With the deal approved yesterday, the Port Authority pays American Port a management fee but keeps all revenues. The authority intends to plow some of that money back into the airport.
Investments of an estimated $100 million will include new taxiways to allow for more aircraft parking and a new administration and maintenance buildings, DeCota said. Meanwhile, the airport's five tenants, or fixed-base operators, are spending another $45 million in rebuilding and renovating airport hangars.
-Al Frank Star Ledger Press room