[Teterboro Airport Index]
$92M project at Teterboro worries foes
By DANIEL SFORZA
More than $90 million will go to longer taxiways, new buildings, and a lot more concrete at Teterboro Airport in the next five years.
And that, airport opponents say, can only mean trouble.
Those same opponents in the past several months have complained about unbearable noise and the prospect of more -- and larger -- jets zipping in and out of New Jersey's busiest general aviation airport.
Relax, says the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the proprietor of Teterboro and the three major metropolitan airports. The $92.5 million in projects earmarked for Teterboro, officials there say, are not meant to expand the airport.
"We are not looking to grow the airport and bring more planes into the airport," says Bill DeCota, the authority's director of aviation. . "All the facilities that are being built are really replacements of older facilities."
The reply from skeptics:
"We do not buy it," says South Hackensack Mayor Nick Brando, part of a group of 12 towns protesting the airport's operation. "Without a doubt . . . it is going to bring increased traffic and bigger airlines."
Teterboro has already been a battleground over concerns about air and noise pollution, fueled by -- among other things -- efforts to add larger planes like the Boeing Business Jet, a converted 737, to the corporate planes that use Teterboro.
Ten days ago, 400 town officials and residents rallied at the airport, demanding that it be closed. The same group, dubbed the Coalition for Public Health and Safety, has commissioned an environmental study to assess the pollution and noise created by private jets landing at Teterboro. The results are due in August.
The next battle will likely center on these major projects:
$21.8 million for a new terminal and administration building, complete with a fire station and general maintenance area.
$44.8 million for new taxiways, including a high-speed exit from Runway 1-19, to move planes in and out quicker.
$6.9 million to bring pavement and utilities to 22 acres at the south end of the airport for future development, possibly a large hanger or fully equipped plane repair facility.
The allotment also includes $4.6 million to repave -- but not extend -- Runway 1-19, which has already been completed. And $2 million will go to soundproof area schools.
Neither a site nor design has been chosen for the new terminal and administration building.
The additional taxiways will be built alongside the two runways. Runway 1-19, the busier of the two, will also get a taxi exit ramp rated for high speed so planes can leave the runway quicker.
"The airport doesn't have very many taxiways," DeCota said. "All of these improvements make the operation more efficient. They basically reduce taxi time for aircraft on the ground." He said the new taxiways will reduce congestion, but they aren't meant to accommodate more planes.
As for the 22-acre development site at the airport's south end:
"There's never been a final decision as to what will actually get built there," DeCota said. "It might just be storage facilities for aircraft. Maybe a hanger. We would also like to see perhaps a maintenance facility."
DeCota said he doesn't believe the improvements will draw more traffic to the airport.
"I think Teterboro's natural attraction . . . is its location," he said. "It really isn't the physical facilities. The maintenance of the structures and newness of hangars really doesn't have anything to do with the value of the airport. It's that it's close to New York and on a major arterial highway [Route 46]."
That explanation doesn't fly with nearby residents.
"They are getting ready for more traffic in and out of the airport," said Rutherford resident Paul Griffo. "All of the facilities are not only being modernized, but they are being made larger. They know the traffic is coming and they want to be ready for it when it gets there."
Rep. Steven Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, has pledged to oppose any expansion of the airport.
"The Port Authority has assured me that all of the funds spent on Teterboro Airport must be used to improve and repair existing facilities and not to expand the airport," he said. "If, however, if even one dime is spent on expansion or to allow larger planes to use Teterboro Airport, I will do everything in my power to oppose their actions. Expansion of Teterboro is not supported by the community and will not be tolerated."
Tom Carver, president of the New Jersey Aviation Association, an industry lobbying group made up of businesses, said residents do face airport-related problems. But he said they are unrealistic about what is happening at Teterboro.
"The people who are opposed to Teterboro have conjured up a lot of things in their minds," Carver said. "We have great sympathy for these people. They do have some problems. People who are left in that state of mind can conjure up all sorts of things. They always assume the worst."
Port Authority officials point to the recent repaving of Runway 1-19, part of the $92.5 million plan, to emphasize their commitment to limiting traffic at Teterboro. The runway has a 100,000-pound weight limit that effectively keeps larger planes out.
"We could have made a runway that could handle heavier aircraft and we chose not to," said Susan Baer, manager of New Jersey airports for the Port Authority. "The runway didn't get longer and it didn't get stressed for greater weight."
The Federal Aviation Administration is studying the runway to determine if it can handle bigger, heavier planes, such as the Boeing Business Jet, which typically weighs about 175,000 pounds. A report is expected later this year.
Baer also points to figures that show the amount of takeoffs and landings leveling off at Teterboro since 1998, at about 185,000 a year.
"The number of aircraft movements is flat. In fact, it is down last year," Baer said.
But over that same period, the number of jets taking off and landing has increased 15 percent, from 94,975 in 1998 to 109,383 in 2000. The increase is even greater, at 46 percent, from 1996 when 74,553 jets took off and landed.
Baer said that is a result of economics, more than anything else.
"There are fewer recreational fliers," she said. "There is more corporate, with professional pilots on jets."
It's the jets that neighbors are complaining about.
"You can't sleep at night," said Emma Perez of Rutherford, founder of the Alliance of Municipalities Concerning Air Traffic. "You are jolted out of bed at 3 a.m., literally. The windows rattle and the walls shake."
Perez has no faith in the Port Authority's ability to run the airport.
"Teterboro cannot continue to exist without taking into consideration the neighbors," she said. "There is some type of responsibility the [Port Authority] needs to take regarding them running the airport and making our lives impossible. It just can't continue like this."