New Jersey’s Trenton Airport emerges as a haven for bizav

 - May 8, 2008, 7:01 AM

In New Jersey a sleeping giant of an airport is beginning to awaken. It has been a well kept secret for a long time, but the secret is beginning to leak out. Corporations seeking an aviation base in the heavily industrialized New York metropolitan area and the busy New York-Philadelphia corridor have generally been frustrated. Teterboro,
the state’s busiest corporate aviation airport, is at the saturation point. Morristown Airport, which has enjoyed extraordinary growth over the past decade, is not far behind.

Two Fortune 500 companies have found an alternative, a first-rate airport that has been underutilized for years. That alternative is Trenton Mercer Airport (TTN), ideally situated between New York and Phila- delphia. Merck opened a 30,000-sq-ft hangar facility there late last year, and its flight department is already considering a substantial expansion.

Pfizer is currently building at TTN what will be one of the largest corporate aviation facilities in the country, a 90,000-sq-ft complex that will accommodate two Boeing Business Jets, two GVs and two corporate helicopters. The $30 million structure, scheduled to open in February, will include such amenities as a gourmet catering kitchen, crew sleeping quarters, a crew lounge, showers and private offices for each pilot.

There are plans in the works to build nine small (60- by 65 ft) corporate condominium hangars to house King Airs or small corporate jets. These will be built by Corporate Aviation Hangars of TTN. The builder will sell these hangars to users who will lease the land from the airport.

A former Naval Air Warfare Center built on the airport early in World War II to assemble Grumman Avenger TBMs built in the General Motors plant across the street is still available. The federal government gave the land (28 acres) and the building to Mercer County for use as an aviation facility. The county has put it out for bid.

New World Aviation, a fractional-ownership company based in Allentown, Pa., has proposed to tear down the building and replace it with a 120,000-sq-ft facility, which is larger than the current building. The company would move its operation from Allentown and also run an FBO at TTN. Ronson Aviation which has been on the field since 1973 is currently the sole FBO.

It is perhaps surprising in light of the space crunch for corporate aviation that Trenton Mercer wasn’t discovered sooner. The airport is well placed in the New Jersey state capital and only 35 min from Philadelphia and about an hour from Manhattan, although many of the airport’s corporate users go into those cities by helicopter.

“It takes 15 minutes to get to Philadelphia by helicopter and about 25 minutes to Manhattan,” said Justin Edwards, TTN’s airport manager. Many corporate operators also use helicopters to get from their headquarters to the airport.

In addition to Merck and Pfizer, which is currently in the Amerada Hess hangar at TTN, other corporate tenants at the airport who operate either fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters or both, include Bristol Myers Squibb, Carter-Wallace, Dow Jones, Johnson & Johnson, the Journal Register and Unisys. Many other Fortune 100 and 500 corporations visit the facility daily.

Realizing Potential
Airport management, which has been working hard to realize the facility’s potential, is currently in preliminary talks with several other corporations about constructing hangar facilities or basing their aircraft at the field. There are also discussions under way with several hotel and office-space developers interested in building on available airport sites.

The airport is the main base for the New Jersey State Police helicopters, which are used principally for medevac operations, and the State National Guard has 31 helicopters based there. There are a host of reasons why Trenton Mercer Airport is an ideal place for corporations to base aircraft.

“You don’t have to stand in line seventh for takeoff,” Edwards pointed out. “Aircraft operating out of TTN are not affected by Philadelphia and Newark ground delays. There is no congestion here.”

TTN offers every amenity and service any corporate operator could want, including customs, 6,000- and 4,800-ft-long runways, ILS approaches, airport rescue and firefighting and a full Part 139 certification (it is one of only three airports in the state to enjoy that status). Additionally, its privately operated tower has been cited for excellence, the airport is adjacent to Interstate 95, it has a popular full-service restaurant, there are maintenance and avionics shops on the field and an ASOS is available when the tower is closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

In an FAA full-facility evaluation last summer, the tower received a score of 99 out of a possible 100. The FAA’s contractor of air traffic control services, RVA Inc., said this was one of the highest scores ever received by any of its facilities in more than six years of providing ATC services.

At the same time, the airport itself received a perfect score in the FAA Certification Inspection, an honor only a handful of airports in the eastern region have ever garnered. There have been 10 mainline airlines operating out of Trenton Mercer over the years, but they have generally been underfinanced and did not survive. The last was East Wind Airlines, which operated Boeing 737s on routes to Florida, South Carolina, Washington and Boston from 1995 to 1999.

Southwest Airlines has expressed a desire to offer service at Trenton, which is one of the few state capitals in the country that lacks major airline service. Southwest would require a new terminal to operate out of the airport. The current terminal is 25 years old and not adequate to meet the needs of today’s commercial operators.
A commuter line, Shuttle America, still operates out of TTN, but its routes and fleet have been cut in half. Last year it operated a fleet of six 50-passenger Dash 8 turboprops and carried 160,000 passengers. It is currently flying three aircraft from TTN to Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C.