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Sunday, February 25, 2001

Airport fights push for more and larger aircraft

By DANIEL SFORZA
Staff Writer

It can have conference rooms, bedrooms, seating for 140 or for one. It can weigh up to 171,000 pounds, carry more than 10,000 gallons of fuel, and fly from New York to Paris, non-stop.

It is the Boeing Business Jet, a 737 commercial jet reconfigured as a corporate airplane, and it may soon be coming to Teterboro Airport.

For nearby residents, the Business Jet represents their worst fears -- noise, pollution, and the possibility that this small-town airfield will become a commercial airport, providing passenger service to and from all points.

One fear may have already become a reality, in part. A small charter airline runs a daily passenger service from Teterboro to Chicago, with scheduled departures and online booking.

Officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates Teterboro, lawmakers, and concerned residents, are fighting the arrival of the Business Jet, saying the airport -- and specifically the runways -- can't handle such a large plane.

"This is not what the airport is intended for," said Port Authority Aviation Director Bill DeCota. "The airport was not built with the physical facilities to accommodate the types of planes we are talking about."

But if the Federal Aviation Administration says the runways and taxiways are strong enough to handle the Business Jet, Teterboro may not have a choice.

Teterboro, a public airport funded by taxpayers, has been able to shun larger jets by imposing a 100,000-pound weight limit. Airport officials say that is the maximum its runways and taxiways can handle without being damaged.

Boeing says otherwise and now hopes the FAA, which is testing the runways, will agree.

"Once you receive federal funds . . . you must be open to all aviation," said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. "That would be the same case here."

Results of the testing are expected within a few weeks, officials said.

If approved, some fear that a passenger operation at Teterboro, which normally handles private planes and charters, will be the next step.

"It opens up the door," said Rutherford resident Eileen Marcus, who says plane noise is a constant bother. "You'll see [Teterboro] turning into a small commercial airport. Where do we draw the line?"

Boeing officials say it is not their intent to lobby for a commercial operation at Teterboro. The company is seeking Business Jet access for its clients, though.

"We are working with customers who have bought business jets and have said they want to fly into and out of Teterboro," said Steve Barlage, director of regional sales for Boeing. "This turns into a flying office, flying hotel, and flying boardroom. They can conduct a lot of private meetings on these."

Teterboro is a destination prized by private pilots and business executives who take advantage of the airport's proximity to New York City. Most of the traffic at Teterboro comes from corporate jets.

But at least one airline has already started regular passenger service.

Indigo has run flights on small corporate jets since August, charging $629 for a one-way ticket between Teterboro and Chicago Midway Airport, similar to commercial fares. Passengers fly on Dassault Falcon 20 jets.

Tickets can be purchased online by anyone for flights departing at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. each weekday. Each flight carries up to eight passengers.

Port Authority officials say they are monitoring Indigo, but acknowledge they didn't know of the scheduled service -- which is not allowed at Teterboro, classified by the FAA as a general aviation airport, not a commercial one.

"We've been watching very carefully," DeCota said. "We haven't reached a conclusion. We've had several discussions with them and raised concerns."

DeCota said that during the authority's monitoring, the agency had not found Indigo to be running a scheduled service.

"We are going to act on that," DeCota said. "If they are offering scheduled service that is going to stop."

Matthew Andersson, chairman of Chicago-based Indigo, said flights run at times requested by their clients, which the company has formalized into a daily schedule. And he likened the service, partially owned by American Express, to chartering a single seat on a plane, rather than the entire craft.

"We just do more charters," Andersson said. "The frequency we fly is purely a product of the demand put on by our customers."

Andersson said he doesn't plan to purchase a Business Jet, although he does intend to increase Indigo's fleet to 100 planes over the next seven years, expanding service from Teterboro to Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C. With that fleet, the airline also plans to add flights out of other New Jersey and New York airports, including those at Morristown and White Plains.

DeCota said the Port Authority has not been made aware of Indigo's intentions.

Such plans are the bane of many neighboring residents who already fear a commercial passenger operation and worry that others wanting to use the Business Jet may emulate Indigo.

"These are commercial jets," said Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan. "They're not little corporate jets. This is that big step that we've been expecting for years.

Lonegan, head of a coalition to make Teterboro quieter and safer, said if the Business Jet is approved, commercial airlines may soon use Teterboro.

"These planes are at least 30 percent larger" than a typical corporate jet, Lonegan said. "This is a big jump. This takes this airport into another category."

Indeed, the Business Jet would be the largest plane to land at Teterboro.

It has more than 800 square feet of interior space, almost triple that of a GulfStream V, a 90,000-pound corporate jet that routinely uses Teterboro. The Business Jet can travel 7,130 miles and is marketed to the super-rich and corporations, with a price tag of more than $50 million, fully loaded.

The Boeing meets FAA noise requirements for planes weighing more than 75,000 pounds and is quieter than some planes that now use Teterboro.

"It meets [federal] requirements," said DeCota of the Port Authority. "It is probably true that it is quieter than some of the airplanes that operate out of Teterboro."

While the Gulfstream seats eight, the larger and heavier Boeing can be configured to seat as many as 140, but the company says most of its customers put in only eight to 12 seats. The Business Jet is delivered to the customer "green," meaning that the interior is not finished. The purchaser then customizes the interior.

But the jet's size alone, however, should not preclude it from landing at Teterboro, Boeing's Barlage said.

"If the engineering says it can come in, it should be allowed to come in," Barlage said. "You can't just arbitrarily set a weight limit and say those planes can't come in."

The push to bring the Boeing to Teterboro comes at a time when the airport is under increasing fire from politicians and residents who claim its 24-hour-a-day operation disrupts the quality of life for thousands of nearby residents.

More than 500 flights land, take off, or pass through Teterboro's airport on an almost daily basis, totaling around 250,000 a year. And in the last 15 years, three planes using Teterboro have crashed, the most recent in December 1999, when a small plane approaching the airport crashed into a Hasbrouck Heights neighborhood.

The FAA and Port Authority are taking steps to address the noise and pollution concerns.

The FAA plans to study different approach patterns for planes using the electronic guidance system at Runway 19, possibly shifting them to the east to lessen the noise impact on nearby residents.

And the Port Authority, as well as a coalition of neighboring towns, is set to begin a study on the effects of aircraft emissions on air quality.

U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman pointed to noise, emissions, and weight as to why the Business Jet should not be allowed at Teterboro.

"The airport can't handle it," the Fair Lawn Democrat said. "The community and the Port Authority are against it. We have limits for a reason. We make distinctions all the time. Boeing is not more knowledgeable than the Port Authority."

Emma Perez, a Rutherford resident who says she is troubled by the frequency of aircraft flying over her house, said she is against any large jets landing at Teterboro.

"You're going to have a heavier aircraft flying over your house," Perez said. "We're not picking on Boeing. We're picking on any aircraft that's over 100,000 pounds."

 

Staff Writer Lisa Goodnight contributed to this article.

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