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"More business aircraft using New Jersey's smaller airports"

Sunday, February 6, 2005

More business aircraft using New Jersey's smaller airports
The Hackensack (NJ) Record

The number of business jets taking off and landing at Teterboro Airport
almost doubled in the last eight years, mirroring a boom in corporate
aircraft use nationwide. 

Jets now make up about 70 percent of the 200,000 annual aircraft movements
at Teterboro -- a nearly 800-acre airfield along Route 46 that once catered
to weekend fliers and their single-engine propeller planes. 

Now the airport is home to the affluent, corporate set, such as those who
were aboard the twin-engine jet that skidded off the runway and across the
highway last Wednesday before smashing into a warehouse. 

Indeed, Teterboro has evolved into one of the metropolitan area's major hubs
for small private jets. It logged about 140,419 takeoffs and landings in
2002, compared with 74,553 in 1996, according to the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey. Officials say the numbers are virtually the same for

But Teterboro is not alone among North Jersey's smaller airports in
accepting corporate jets. 

For example, jet travel increased by about 30 percent from 1992 to 2002 at
Morristown Municipal Airport, which is nestled in a wooded area three miles
off Route 24. Morristown's 236,339 takeoffs and landings in 2002 placed it
second only to Newark Liberty International Airport in air traffic; Newark
has about 450,000 movements a year. 

Even Essex County Airport in Fairfield -- which has a small-time feel, with
Cessnas and other single-engine propeller planes making up much of the air
traffic -- logs about 15,000 takeoffs and landings involving small business
jets, said Tom Gomez, the airport manager. 

In all, 12 of New Jersey's 48 airports now accept jets. 

This increasing popularity of business jets -- whose U.S. numbers nearly
doubled in the last 10 years, to 9,842 by 2004 -- has raised questions in
some minds about the safety of the many smaller airports that now must
service them.

"The worry is that the number of jet planes will continue to increase. It
has already doubled," said Paul Griffo of Rutherford, a physics professor at
Bergen Community College. "We are polluting our air, we are bringing noise
into our schools, our hospitals, that used to be quiet sanctuaries. Now the
people inside those places are more at risk for their safety and health and
quality of life."

Alfred Dickinson, a former National Transportation Safety Board
investigator, said some airports do not have the capacity to take on a large
number of jets. 

"The smaller ones don't have the resources," said Dickinson, director of the
USC Aviation Safety and Security Program. 

Business jets often fly into airports that have nowhere near the amount of
technological enhancements that help commercial pilots land at major
metropolitan hubs, said Greg Feith, former head of the NTSB office in
Parsippany. This includes high-intensity lighting, runway tracking systems
and computer models of the area. 

"The preparedness of [business jet] pilots has to be higher," Feith said.
"You may not have a professional dispatcher. You may have to gauge the
weather and location of the airport. You don't have that at a commercial
airport so the discipline has to be much higher." 

Industry groups like the National Business Aviation Association maintain
that jet engines have a safety record that rivals commercial airliners. 

A recent study of NTSB data by an independent air safety expert showed that
business jets have virtually the same "fatal accident rate" as scheduled air
carriers, with 0.014 deaths per 100,000 flying hours. 

Such industry groups began downplaying Wednesday's crash almost immediately.

The New Jersey Aviation Association, a lobbying group, issued a statement
saying that there had never been a fatal accident involving a business jet
taking off from Teterboro. 

But on May 24, 1988, a twin-engine Learjet from Teterboro slammed into a
West Paterson hillside, killing all four people aboard. 

And on Nov. 11, 1985, a corporate jet en route to Teterboro collided with a
propeller plane over Fairview, killing six people, including one on the
ground, and destroying a row of multifamily homes in Cliffside Park. 

Executives at the Business Aviation Association say that most of the 5,400
public-use airports in the country have the capacity to accept more air

"The only place where there is a strain is in the top 30" busiest airports,
said Steve Brown, senior vice president of operations. 

The Federal Aviation Administration recently developed a new policy to
standardize the length of safety areas beyond the runways at all airports,
especially smaller ones where space may be at a premium. 

The FAA's goal was originally intended to be met in 2007, said spokesman Jim
Peters. But because of "other constraints," he said, airports are required
only to start the planning and environmental work by then. 

The "runway safety area" currently varies from airport to airport and is
usually determined by the amount of land that was available when the airport
was built. 

At Teterboro in particular, the Port Authority is seriously considering two
options to meet the FAA's goal. 

One includes shifting Runway 6-24 to the south, creating 1,000 feet of space
between the end of the runway and Route 46. There is available land at the
south end of the runway, although wetlands would likely be disturbed. 

The second includes using "foam arrestor beds," which have been approved by
the FAA as a substitute for the 1,000-foot barrier. However, these systems
are in place at only 15 airports nationwide (including Kennedy International
and La Guardia) and have never been used with small planes, Port Authority
officials said. 

The system -- lightweight concrete blocks designed to crush under the weight
of a plane -- safely stopped an airplane at Kennedy that overran the runway
in January. 

The system was mainly designed to handle planes on arrival, when aircraft
are going much slower than on departure. However, it could be used in
situations similar to the accident at Teterboro last week, the manufacturer
has said. 

Despite the proposed improvements, a consortium of North Jersey leaders and
state legislators are petitioning the FAA to cut the number of flights at

"When you reduce the amount of planes going in there, you reduce the risk,"
said Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlow, also the mayor of Wood-Ridge. "The
intensity is increasing, and it's becoming excessive." 

Several analysts say the increasing popularity of business jets has more to
do with economic trends than safety concerns and the hassle of commercial
airliners. Simply put, more airports are catering to corporate jets because
they purchase more fuel. 

"They're a larger source of revenue," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents mostly owners of
single-engine propeller planes. "At some of those airports the small plane
operators feel that the airport operators are paying more attention and
giving preferential treatment to corporate jets." 

Essex County Airport, for one, has no plans to expand its longest runway --
4,553 feet -- to accept bigger jets. It doesn't have the space, said Gomez,
the airport manager. 

"Once you open your door for the corporate world, you're open 24-7," Gomez
said. "It changes everything. We're not looking at doing anything that would
makes us another Teterboro or Morristown."

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