New Jersey conference focuses on revitalization

 - October 9, 2006, 9:17 AM

The theme of this year’s annual New Jersey Aviation Conference, held at Newark Liberty International Airport recently, was “Revitalizing New Jersey Aviation,” but state issues composed only half the conference’s agenda. General aviation is in the process of reinventing itself, and a procession of experts focused on the changes that are reshaping business and personal flying.

Two topics of particular interest were the new concepts in navigation taking place with GPS and WAAS and the introduction of the very light jet (VLJ).

“Our nation’s growing need for air transportation and advances in technology will define a whole new era in general aviation,” noted New Jersey Aviation Association president Jack Olcott. “We may be reaching that phase when we no longer define general aviation by what it isn’t. We’ve always said to the people who say, ‘What is general aviation?’: Well, it’s not the airlines. We know what that is. It’s not the military. We all know what that is. General aviation is everything else. Maybe it’s about time to call general aviation what it is: the best form of personal transportation bar none.”

Other national issues that made it to the agenda were runway incursions and midair collision avoidance. The FAA’s Bill De Graff hosted the runway incursion session, while Lt. Col. Jon Spare, USAF Reserve and an American Airlines pilot, hosted the midair collision avoidance seminar.

The Future of N.J. Aviation

While the conference addressed national issues, organizers devoted much of the agenda to topics of interest to residents of New Jersey. Bill Leavens, AOPA regional representative, filling in for Bob Checcio, president of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition, sponsor of the conference, opened the session with a rundown of the progress made in preserving the dwindling number of airports.

The Airport Development Rights Law, sponsored by Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, has played a major role in saving airports. The law enables the state to buy airport development rights from the owner, in return for which the property must remain an airport in perpetuity.

Development rights have been purchased at Lincoln Park Airport and Central Jersey Regional. The state has also made offers to Sussex, Blairstown, Alexandria, Cross Keys and Spitfire Airports for the purchase of such rights. The State Division of Aeronautics is currently studying an appraisal of Trenton-Robbinsville Airport, which may result in an offer to purchase development rights there.

According to Tom Thatcher, director of the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics, the Garden State is the only state actively pursuing the preservation of privately owned public-use airports.

The state has purchased Aeroflex-Andover, Greenwood Lake and South Jersey Regional Airports. Green Township purchased Trinca, a turf strip, and Lakewood is owned by the city.

Leavens pointed out that Bader Field’s protection under the federal grant provisions runs out in September next year. The airport is owned by the city, and Leavens indicated that the people around the airport did not want to see high-rises built on that property, which is a strong possibility if the airport closes. They want the neighborhood to maintain its current character.

Rick Gimello, director of intermodal transportation for the Department of Transportation, said that in the 1950s, New Jersey had 82 airports. “Today,” he said, “that number is down to 48. We believe that 32 of those are core airports. We are determined over the next five years to have preserved 100 percent of these airports.

“We have traditionally gotten about $7 million from the transportation trust fund for airports. There is virtually no opposition to taking those funds and applying them to the preservation of airports. Around each airport there are constituencies who favor or oppose proposals. But there is opposition to virtually everything we do, whether it involves railroads or warehousing near dock areas. People resist change.

“The last couple of administrators were proactive,” he said, “and I do not anticipate that changing. Within the next five years we’re hoping to get 100 percent of those core airports under contract for preservation of development rights. Over the next 10 years we’re going to be looking not only at preservation but at the revitalization of those core airports as well.”

Medevac Operations

The concluding speaker on the program, Terry Hoben, coordinator of the UMDNJ-NorthStar New Jersey State Police Medevac, gave a history of the unit and discussed the selection of Somerset Airport as the best site to locate the unit, which had been based at the University Hospital in Newark. The number of accidents on Routes 78 and 287 has increased and response time from Somerset is much shorter than it is from Newark.

The medevac unit is now operating out of Somerset on a temporary permit until February and hopes to be able to build a permanent facility there. The unit had not anticipated any problems in connection with its relocation, but Hoben reported that its confidence turned out to be misplaced. There has been a groundswell of opposition from anti-airport activists.