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"New Rallying Cry: Save the Small Airports"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 1 Dec 2007 22:23:49 +0430
Sunday, December 2, 2007
New Rallying Cry: Save the Small Airports
By BARBARA S. PETERSON
The New York (NY) Times
NOT long ago, many of New Jersey's small airports were endangered because of
opposition from local communities and pressure from developers interested in
converting the land to more profitable use, like condos or shopping malls.
These general-aviation airports, which cater to private pilots, flight
schools and other nonairline operations, were closing at the rate of one a
year, falling to 43 today from a high of around 100 after World War II.
But state officials say the trend may be reversing as larger airports in the
region reach capacity and a new generation of very light jets prepares to
"As private aviation takes off in the region, it is important for us to
preserve a core airport system," said Kris Kolluri, New Jersey's
transportation commissioner. "Congestion is certainly a factor, and these
smaller airports can play a role," he added, alluding to record delays that
have strained major airports in the New York City area.
New Jersey has 16 reliever airfields, which the Federal Aviation
Administration designates as capable of drawing general aviation traffic
from major hubs like Newark Liberty International and La Guardia Airports.
That entitles those smaller airports to additional funding from the
government and makes them less likely to shut down.
But many of the smaller airports are privately owned "mom and pop"
operations and have less incentive to resist the forces that have claimed so
Since the mid-1990s, when a New Jersey state commission was convened to
study the reasons for the decline in general aviation, the state has made
substantial investments in five airports that were in danger of being sold,
Mr. Kolluri said.
Two were bought outright: Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, in Passaic
County, and South Jersey Airport, in Burlington County. The state also
bought development rights at airports in Lincoln Park, in Passaic County;
Manville, in Somerset County; and Alexandria, in Hunterdon County, to
protect them from encroachment from developers.
The total annual public investment in general-aviation facilities statewide
is $14 million, Mr. Kolluri said, about evenly split between state and
The renewed push to preserve smaller airports comes at a time when private
flying in the region is still struggling to recover from the twin effects of
the Sept. 11 attacks and the economic downturn. Scheduled airline flights in
the New York City area are up 15 percent over 2001, but general aviation is
down 9 percent.
"General aviation, especially when it's for recreational and other personal
uses, is very closely tied to the economy - it's coming out of people's
disposable income," said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners
and Pilots Association, in Frederick, Md.
But pilots' groups and entrepreneurs are hoping that the imminent arrival of
the very light jets will jump-start interest in these alternative airfields.
At list prices starting at just under $1 million, well under the cost of the
average Learjet, the new jets could be used as air taxis or for "on demand"
services at thousands of underused airfields around the country.
Only a few of the jets have been produced so far, however, and Mr. Dancy
cautioned that "it is far too early to tell if this business model of
point-to-point air taxis is going to be viable." And some communities may
resist the new jets unless it can be demonstrated that they are quieter than
current models, as manufacturers assert.
Most of New Jersey's general-aviation airports have little jet traffic, but
that may change as Teterboro Airport - one of the busiest airfields for
private jets - continues to reduce operations.
The airport, which is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,
has agreed to cut flights by 10 percent to assuage concerns from local
residents about noise, as well as safety, following three accidents in four
months in 2005. That included one in which a jet skidded off the runway,
across the road and into a warehouse.
Last year Teterboro Airport handled around 187,000 takeoffs and landings,
down about 10,000 from the previous year. By contrast, a quiet airport like
Greenwood Lake handles around 20,000 takeoffs and landings annually.
Nonetheless, Tim Wagner, general manager at the West Milford airport, said
he was "definitely benefiting" from the spillover from New York's crowded
close-in airports; the number of planes parked there has risen to 93 from 54
in the last three years. He plans to build more hangars and put in a rental
car location, and the airport is scheduled to open a restaurant this week.
He has received $900,000 in state and federal grants to improve facilities.
The F.A.A. requires that in exchange for financial assistance, an airport
stay open for at least 20 years or pay back the grant, said Jim Peters, an
agency spokesman. "We haven't heard anything recently about any further
airport closures" in New Jersey, he said.
However, last year tiny Bader Field Airport in Atlantic City closed down
after several failed attempts by members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots
Association to keep it running. The state says four other small airports
have closed since 2000 - in Marlboro, Pemberton, Piney Hollow and Vineland.
For many communities, any allure an airport might have is often outweighed
by what are perceived as sizable drawbacks, like the drone of low-flying
propeller aircraft and possible safety and environmental hazards.
But Mr. Kolluri, the transportation commissioner, said demand exists for
"Every single hangar in the state is currently rented out, and there is a
waiting list for new space," he said. "The only way we can make sure this
continues is that supply is adequate, and that won't happen if these
airports continue to be sold off."
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