‘Undiscovered’ Trenton, N.J. embarks on improvements

 - March 29, 2007, 1:27 PM

“It’s the most important piece of undiscovered aviation property east of the Mississippi,” asserted Tom Carver, president of the New Jersey Aviation Association. And what piece of property was he referring to? The Trenton-Mercer Airport, close by the northwest corner of the state capital city.

It lies in the midst of the busy Northeast corridor in a densely populated, highly industrialized area. It is within easy range not only for hundreds of thousands of Jerseyans, but it is not far from Philadelphia. Yet Trenton is one of the few state capitals in the country not served by a major airline, although it does host scheduled flights by US Airways Express carrier Shuttle America.

One of the reasons for this is that the airport’s terminal, while it has served some small airlines, is not suitable to handle major airline service.

Airport management, the immediate-past county executive and the newly elected holder of that office have long sought such a facility, and there are airlines that have said, “Build it and we will come.” But there was an impenetrable barrier preventing that: the county freeholders all belonged to one party and the county executive was a member of the other party. There was little chance the two sides would ever meet.

But now that barrier has been removed. The newly elected county executive is a member of the same party as the sitting freeholders. He appreciates the value of the airport and its potential to serve the economy of the area, and he is not likely to face the same opposition that dogged his predecessor, who also favored a new terminal.

The new county executive, Brian Hughes, speaking at a February meeting of the Trenton-Mercer Business Partners (for the most part corporate tenants)–the same gathering at which Carver made his aforementioned statement–Hughes said “an airline terminal would be important to the region’s economy. We want to give the airport the tools it needs to succeed. I believe in the ability of this airport to make a strategic difference to the economy.”

‘Good Things are Happening’

Money, of course, is one of the major hurdles, and on this front Tom Thatcher, director of the state’s division of aeronautics, told the group, “We’re going to get more money. Good things are happening.”

Business aviation activity at the airport has grown significantly in the past few years. The world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturer, Pfizer, built one of the largest corporate aviation hangars in the country at Trenton-Mercer a couple of years ago.

Merck, which ranks third among pharmaceutical manufacturers, built a 17,000-sq-ft hangar there in 2000, and Michael DelMasto, the company’s director of aviation, told the group that work is well along on a 17,000-sq-ft addition.

Ten new corporate hangars are to be erected by Corporate Aviation Hangars of TTN. Tom Jadico, one of the company’s principal members, who is also vice president and general manager of Ronson Aviation, the airport’s FBO, said five of those hangars are already sold. All of them are in final stages of construction and will be ready for occupancy this month.

As for Ronson, Jadico said the FBO turned away $2.5 million in business last year because there was no hangar space available for more business aircraft. Soon after he made that statement, Ronson said it will build a new hangar capable of housing a GV. The director of operations for Ronson, Wolcott Blair, said his company is also installing a self-service gas pump to serve avgas users.

Another boon for the airport is a new Marriott Courtyard, which just opened adjacent to the airport. The hotel’s general manager, John St. Omer, told the gathering that the new facility has many amenities and the entire property is sound proofed. This is the only hotel in Trenton.

The airport has received a $3.5 million federal grant to rehabilitate Runway 16-34, replace the runway lights with a high-intensity system, install a more advanced REIL system and replace the VASI with a PAPI. The work will be done this summer. The airport has also received a $l.6 million grant from the state to rehabilitate taxiways Alpha and Charlie.

Assistant airport manager Melinda Montgomery said the airport will hold its first golf tournament this year for the benefit of aviation and related charities. She also pointed out that October 26 will mark the 75th anniversary of the airport. Among the distinguished aviators present at the airport’s opening in 1929 were Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Doolittle. Plans have not yet been announced for how the anniversary will be observed.

A week after the meeting it was announced that Boston-Maine Airways will offer commuter service at Trenton-Mercer Airport to replace Shuttle America, which said it would cease service on May 31 after extending its departure date by one month.
Initially, Boston-Maine Airways will offer two daily flights to Boston, according to airport manager Justin Edwards. A starting date for BMA service has not been announced. BMA operates a fleet of 19-passenger Jetstream 31s and Boeing 727s, and its commuter service extends from New Brunswick, Canada, to Baltimore.

Subsequently, Shuttle America changed its mind and announced that it would continue to offer service out of Trenton-Mercer Airport, operating five flights to Boston and one to Pittsburgh daily. Boston-Maine Airways declared that it would not change its plans and would offer two flights to Boston daily.

At the same time that these developments were taking place, it was announced that Trenton-Mercer Airport has been recognized as a model airport by the FAA at
its 27th annual Airport Conference in Hershey, Pa. Similar honors were bestowed on New York La Guardia and Philadelphia International Airports.