By Doug Most and Charles Stile, Staff Writers
As North Jersey residents beg officials to impose a curfew on late-night flights at Teterboro Airport, and for other ways to reduce noise from airplanes, a new group emerged Thursday that could make their fight for peace tougher.
The New Jersey Aviation Association said it will lobby against a curfew and other changes that would limit traffic at Teterboro, arguing that small airports boost the states economy and should not be forced to curtail flights.
"There are very well organized groups that say to the politicians, We want this place closed, we dont want it expanded, we dont want the operations to continue " Thomas Carver, the associations president and a former Port Authority executive, said at the State House in Trenton. "And there is nobody on the other side to say, Wait a minute, Mr. Politician. A lot of your constituents depend on this place. "
Questions surrounding small or so-called general aviation airports that cater to corporate and private aircraft have intensified in New Jersey in the last year, largely as a result of two accidents.
In December, a twin-engine plane slammed into a Hasbrouck Heights neighborhood after the pilot apparently became disoriented on his approach to Teterboro. All four people on the plane were killed. In August, two Pipers collided over Burlington Township with most of the debris raining down on a garage. All 11 people on both planes died.
The incidents heightened fears of residents who live near small airports.
"If it were dangerous there are enough people the Port Authority, the FAA, and others who are well aware of the situation and have taken reasonable means to make sure the situation is safe," Carver said.
He said the group was formed to "protect and promote" the general aviation industry as a key to New Jerseys transportation system, and to influence public policy. The $1.8 billion general aviation industry provides 100,000 jobs around the state, he said.
The 50 private and public airports around the state, the group said, bring in $720 million a year to the state and businesses. Most of the states busiest small airports are in North Jersey such as Teterboro, Caldwell Airport, and Morristown Municipal Airport.
The group estimated 842,000 people visit the state through the smaller airports each year, and spend close to $200 million.
When told of the new group, former Carlstadt Councilman Brian Curreri said residents opposed to the airport noise need to become equally organized.
"The next step now is to get this EIS [environmental impact study] done and then file a lawsuit against the Port Authority, the owner and operator of the airport and the federal government," Curreri said. "This is hurting the children. The kids cant play in their yards. Its like living on a runaway."
Thursday night, the Carlstadt Borough Council unanimously supported a resolution to initiate a class-action lawsuit, and said letters would be sent to other towns seeking support for the action.
Curreri said the group formed to address the noise issue, the Teterboro Aircraft Noise Abatement and Advisory Committee, has done little. "I cant take it anymore," Curreri said. "I can read the numbers on the airplane. N2208."
Carver, however, said the airports are unfairly blamed for being too busy in highly congested areas, when in fact, he said, the airports were initially built in rural areas and the communities around them were built out later.
"A major function of our mission will be to balance the concerns of both the towns and the industry," Carver said.
Finding that balance will not be easy.
Residents in Hackensack, Hasbrouck Heights, Rutherford, Teaneck, Carlstadt, and other towns have stepped up their efforts lately with the Federal Aviation Administration and Port Authority.
They have complained that a new landing approach into Teterboro that brings planes over the tops of high-rise apartment buildings in Hackensack has made living along Prospect Street and Summit Avenue unbearable. The planes, residents say, sound as if they will land in their living rooms, and pictures they have taken show planes flying just a few hundred feet over their roofs.
Residents have been bombarded officials with letters, to no avail. The Port Authority and FAA say the new approach allows planes to make safer, instrument approaches to Teterboro, and that moving the flight path would simply shift the noise over another neighborhood.
A curfew, the residents say, would at least let them sleep through the night, something they say is impossible now with planes flying so close.
Carver said a curfew is unrealistic, and so far, the Port Authority, which manages the airport, has agreed.
"Lets take, for example, one of the major companies that worked here in New Jersey," Carver said. "Lets just take Honeywell, for example. The chairman of Honeywell would have the meeting in the West Coast. Now we are talking in todays competition where decisions are made almost overnight in terms of businesses competing with each other. If in fact, he was flying back in his own plane and he had to come back to Teterboro, he wouldnt be back in time for the meeting the next morning, because you couldnt land there."
Among those serving on the New Jersey Aviation Associations board of directors are executives from companies including Honeywell, Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, and Lucent Technologies, as well as officials from several airports. Ralph Tragale, manager of government and community relations for the Port Authority, is also a director.
"With all due respect to the people who live on Summit Avenue in Hackensack, I understand planes do make noise on occasion," Carver said. "But by the same token, we have to take into account the $459 million and growing that [Teterboro] airport represents and try to accommodate it in any way that we can, with noise procedures, and with things of that nature."