Port Authority prepares to battle FAA over TEB access

 - October 17, 2006, 6:50 AM

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) told AIN its chairman, Anthony Coscia, would use “whatever means necessary,” including legal action and “substantial” increases in landing fees, to achieve its agenda at Teterboro Airport (TEB). [One FBO owner said he understands the fees could be doubled.] The PANYNJ’s stated goals include a 10-percent overall reduction in traffic, a 50- to 60-percent reduction in nighttime operations, a Stage 2 ban and a weight limit of 80,000 pounds–down from the current 100,000 pounds–for all aircraft using the airport.

At a meeting of the Teterboro Users Group (TUG), airport manager Lanny Rider said Congressman Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), who has led the assault on operations at Teterboro, vehemently objected to the 10-percent figure. He wants to lower traffic by 25 percent.

The FAA has indicated it will scrutinize any new fee schedules and/or restrictions at the airport for violations of its legal mandate that any such restrictions cannot be “unjustly discriminatory.” Should the FAA determine that the PANYNJ’s proposed restrictions (if implemented) violate that mandate, the federal agency can deny airport improvement funds or even force the airport to repay funds that have already been spent from federal sources. But recent setbacks permitting Stage 2 bans in Naples, Fla.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Van Nuys, Calif., have left general aviation lobby groups and operators wondering if the FAA is losing ground in the turf war over airport access issues.

TUG members expressed concern that if a 25-percent reduction in traffic becomes the mandate, they might all be required to cut back their operations, and thus their revenues, by one quarter. Rider said he believes Coscia’s theory is to institute the fees and restrictions with the expectation that they will result in a 10-percent reduction in traffic.

Local politicians, led by Rothman, have spearheaded efforts to limit traffic at TEB for years, citing the airport’s location in the midst of some of the most densely populated territory in the country. Rothman battled tooth and nail with Boeing, which challenged the 100,000-pound weight limit that denied access to Teterboro for its Boeing Business Jet.

But a source close to the controversy told AIN that the five FBOs on the airport were lukewarm, at best, about allowing BBJs onto the field, since their oversize footprint would have created challenges for the service providers on their ramps. “For the FBOs, it’s not worth the hassle for the fuel sales [the BBJs] would generate,” said the source.

But an 80,000-pound limit raises some thorny questions, especially if it applies to the manufacturer’s certified maximum takeoff weight rather than the aircraft operating weight. The current 100,000-pound limit applies to the actual operating weight of the airplane. Rider once told AIN that BBJs were more than welcome to fly into the airport as long as they could show by their weight-and-balance calculations that they did not exceed 100,000 pounds.

But for a BBJ, that would mean minimal fuel, “enough to fly, maybe, as far as Stewart [International Airport–about 50 nm north of TEB]” said Rider. He also pointed out that the 100,000-pound restriction was not tech-nically an actual “ban” since heavier aircraft can operate at the airport with prior permission.

In fact, Teterboro regularly sees New York-area sports teams’ 737s on its ramps. The FAA Airport/Facility Directory comments for Teterboro read, “PPR [prior permission required] for any acft operating above 100,000 pounds.” [For the record, the A/FD points out Teterboro is also “CLOSED to motorless acft–uncontrolled acft and ultralight activity except by prior permission.”]

Traffic-reduction Plans

If the restriction were tightened to 80,000 pounds, FBOs would not be as apathetic. If based on mtow, such a limitation would ban ultra-long-range jets that are profitable customers for FBOs. They include the Global Express and the Gulfstream V/ G550–each of which has an mtow much greater than 80,000 pounds but a maximum landing weight much less than the proposed limit. Even if the limitation were based on operating weight, as it is now, a Gulfstream G550 would be limited to taking off at 11,000 pounds below its mtow of 91,000 pounds; a Global Express would have to leave 18,000 pounds of useful load on the ground at TEB.

At present, enforcement of the 100,000-pound limit involves Port Authority officials’ reviewing an aircraft operator’s weight-and-balance forms whenever there is a question of an overweight situation. Aircraft operators can be required to submit their official paperwork to the authority for review.

Coscia discussed the plan to increase landing fees at a public meeting with local politicians last month. Meetings with the FAA have been ongoing, and at press time no official numbers had been released. The FAA reiterated its stance that raising the fees would have to be part of a “transparent” process in which the airport users would be given a chance to provide input.

Rider told TUG members that the PANYNJ embarked on a project about two years ago to identify outlying airports as alternative bases and destinations for aircraft that would be displaced by any move to reduce traffic at TEB.

Coscia cited November 1 as the announcement date for the new fees, which would take effect 90 days later. The current fee schedule calls for a $15 landing fee for aircraft with an mtow of less than 12,500 pounds (unlike the 100,000-pound weight limit, landing fees are based on mtow). Aircraft from 12,501 pounds to 80,000 pounds are liable for a landing fee of $2.10 per 1,000 pounds of mtow; and aircraft weighing more than 80,000 pounds are charged $3.90 per 1,000 pounds. Rider speculated that Coscia might have chosen the 80,000-pound limit based on the airport’s fee structure–because aircraft heavier than 80,000 pounds constitute the uppermost category.

Meanwhile, a voluntary effort at reducing night flights–most of which consist of check-carrying missions–is expected to reduce the number of late-hour takeoffs and landings by as much as 60 percent within six months, according to the Port Authority.

Rider assured TUG members that Coscia grasps the ramifications of his proposals. Rider said, “The aviation people within the authority, including me, have made it clear, and he understands. The chairman is a very intelligent man. He understands the criticality of this airport for the local economy and the national airspace system, and has decided that the changes he proposes represent the best for long-term traffic management at the airport. He wants to effect demonstrable change at the airport, and he wants to do it quickly.”