PA girding for battle
, The Record, Wednesday, July 30, 2003
A resolution expected to be passed by the Port Authority board Thursday directs the agency's staff to find a way to thwart a Federal Aviation Administration proposal to remove weight restrictions at the airport.
"We are evaluating our legal rights and to what degree we can participate in the process," Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said in his first public comments on the proposal. "We are hopeful the FAA will listen to reason and change its position."
Coscia did not elaborate during the telephone interview Monday on what legal options might be available to the agency. Other officials have said the battle could hinge instead on engineering issues, such as how much weight a runway can handle.
FAA officials declined to comment Tuesday.
The clock is ticking. The FAA will accept comments on the proposal until Aug. 15, after which it will again review the plan and make a final decision on whether to enforce it. The FAA has the sole power to make that decision.
Airports nationwide have imposed bans on planes that outweigh the capacity of their runways, which is 100,000 pounds at Teterboro. Airport officials contend that heavier planes will degrade the pavement more quickly.
"We have runways there that are really not constructed to support this and would deteriorate at a much quicker pace," Coscia said. "Our capital infrastructure will be beaten up because of this shortsighted change in policy."
The Boeing Co. has lobbied to get its Business Jet - a $50 million converted 737 - into Teterboro, a prized spot for executives and the wealthy to land and take off.
For the aerospace giant, the FAA proposal is a coup against local airport control.
"The policy affects more than just Teterboro, it affects every airport in the nation," said Boeing regional sales director Steve Barlage. He said the Port Authority "can't expect the FAA to exempt Teterboro."
The FAA proposal requires airports to come up with a plan to allow larger jets to take off and land. That could include accepting heavier planes on a limited basis or increasing the strength and size of the runways to accommodate larger planes.
Boeing has argued that airports, particularly Teterboro, discriminate against larger planes. Airports that accept federal money must be open to all comers for 20 years after taking a grant.
The FAA's proposed policy says such discrimination is not allowed.
"The administration's sudden concern about weight discrimination is suspicious," said Alex Formuzis, spokesman for Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J. "They haven't seemed very concerned about other discrimination issues in society."
The proposal also forbids airport operators to use weight restrictions as a way to mitigate noise. Barlage said the Port Authority is doing just that.
"It is becoming more and more apparent that they are trying to control noise through restrictive policies," Barlage said. "You can't have artificial restrictions acting as an instrument to control noise."
The Boeing Business Jet meets the FAA's most stringent requirements for noise pollution and would meet future requirements now being considered, Barlage said.
"This particular airplane does not have a noise issue," he said.
Noise and pollution have long been hot-button issues for communities surrounding Teterboro, which contend that its role as a "reliever" airport has ruined residents' quality of life.
Many small jets fly into Teterboro instead of using one of the Port Authority's other three airports, Newark Liberty International, Kennedy International, and La Guardia. Some of the smaller, older jets may be noisier than Boeing's 737, Barlage and Port Authority officials have said.
Still, the agency remains opposed.
"I don't see landing 737s at Teterboro as helping to develop a transportation network that peacefully coexists with people who make their homes here," Coscia said. "I don't consider it to be the appropriate thing for this agency."
The agency already mailed letters to mayors of communities near Teterboro, asking them to voice their opposition to the FAA. The Port Authority is also working in concert with Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn.
"For at least the past three years, [the Port Authority] has been extremely helpful in providing information and assistance in our battle to keep the Boeing Business Jet out of Teterboro," Rothman said Tuesday. "It has been a successful partnership to date, and this cause needs all the helpful partners we can get."
Last week, Rothman got a clause into the federal transportation funding bill that would prevent the FAA proposal from affecting Teterboro. The House will take up the bill in September. A Senate version would also be needed.
Locally, county officials are urging towns to write resolutions opposing the FAA's proposal. A community meeting was held in Hasbrouck Heights on Monday to coordinate grass-roots opposition efforts.
"Having grown up in Wood-Ridge, I know firsthand the nuisance and distraction the noise and pollution from aircraft using Teterboro Airport create," said County Freeholder James Carroll. "This has only worsened through the years, and the FAA plan to lift the weight restriction would cast a dark pall over our communities."
Freeholder David Ganz had similar thoughts.
"It's time for the FAA to consider the impact to the residents of South Bergen and
not concern themselves with improving the bottom line of Boeing," he said.