Northeast Business Aviation Airports Return To Normal After Sandy

 - January 2, 2013, 12:55 AM
Flooding closed Teterboro airport for 36 hours after the storm, and once the water receded the airport authority was left with the clean up necessitated by the salt water.

More than a month after October’s Hurricane Sandy, some airports in the Northeast continued to repair the damage left in the “superstorm’s” wake.

For the second time in little more than a year, New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport found its runways and taxiways submerged under several feet of water. During Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011, heavy rain from the storm caused ground saturation and covered much of the airport. With Sandy, however, it wasn’t the rain (the area reported less than an inch of precipitation) but a combination of convergent events that caused the problems during the night of the storm. “The flooding on the runways and taxiways was about the same [as during Irene], about two to three feet deep, but in this case it was triggered by the tidal surge,” said Pam Phillips, Teterboro Airport’s manager of operations and security. On October 29, the night Sandy hit the Metro N.Y. area, water levels pushed high by the storm breached an earthen berm along the nearby Hackensack River.

“We thought we were in the clear,” Teterboro Airport manager Renee Spann told AIN. “We certainly had some wind damage, some power outages, but up until that point we had no flooding and we really thought we had weathered the storm.” But the water began to rise at the airport and closed it for approximately 36 hours. Once it had receded, airport authorities discovered that the invader had been salt water, which quickly began to corrode wiring and electrical components such as transformers and regulators. For a day after it reopened, the airport restricted operations to daylight only while its lighting vault drained. “We have to replace a significant amount of wiring, sign components, in-pavement and elevated lighting components,” said Phillips. “With Irene, once the flood waters receded, we basically cleaned things off and we were OK.”

Another effect of the storm was the loss of power to millions in the region. The entire west side of the airport, an area housing several FBOs, was without main power for nearly a week. Airport operations were powered by generators for approximately five days after the airport reopened.

With two such recent events, the airport authorities are looking to bolster their emergency assets. “We’re looking at how much generator power we actually have available on the airport and are already working with our project management folks to improve our emergency generator capacity,” said Spann. Airport officials said they will also look into elevating certain facilities when it’s time to upgrade or replace them.

A problem this time, and not one seen during the aftermath of Irene, was the shortage of gasoline in the region as motorists endured hours-long lines at the limited number of filling stations that had both power and product. While the airport made sure all its vehicles were full of fuel before the storm and encouraged its tenants to do the same, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) contracted with World Fuel Services to keep tanker trucks full of gasoline at its airports to fuel ground equipment and even the vehicles of airport and FBO workers struggling to locate gas.

FBOs Implement Emergency Plans

As Sandy approached, the previous storm was still fresh in the minds of the employees of the FBOs on Teterboro airport. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, we had some good experience with Irene the year prior,” said Meridian president Steve Chandoha. “It was a good learning curve for us.” As the sandbags went up around its entrances, Meridian held formal planning meetings to iron out concerns. According to Chandoha, one positive gain during the preparations for Sandy were the twice-daily conference calls initiated by the PANYNJ and TEB airport officials to share information with their tenants. “We felt we were part of a bigger picture,” he said.

One concern for the FBO was in its fuel supply. Though it had made sure its tank farm was topped off before the storm, interruptions in the fuel-transport system meant the flow of fuel was far from certain. “Shell did a good job coordinating that for us, but toward the end of the second week we got a little nervous about whether or not we would have fuel for customers,” Chandoha told AIN.

While all the FBOs at TEB had emergency response plans in effect after Hurricane Irene if not before, Signature Flight Support found itself in a unique situation at the airport. During Irene, the provider, which has facilities on both sides of the airport, noted water rising too close for comfort at its west-side buildings (graded to withstand a 100-year-flood). Its buildings did not flood, but after Irene the company established a plan that called for an evacuation of workers and all movable equipment to its east-side complex (graded to survive a 500-year flood). According to Jackie Vibbert, the FBO’s general manager, that plan was instituted in advance of Sandy’s arrival. “By the time the storm was over Teterboro, we had already moved our entire operation over and were operational on our east side, so the lesson learned the year before proved beneficial for this storm.”

Another New York-area airport that suffered the wrath of Sandy was Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport (BDR) in Bridgeport, Conn. Located on the Housatonic River nine feet above sea level, it was inundated when the storm pushed a 12-foot tidal surge of water from Long Island Sound up through a neighboring marina. “You’ve got to think the center of the storm actually went into New Jersey, so we were on the hard side of the storm,” said Steve Ford, the airport’s superintendent of operations. “Irene was bad as well, but not to this extent. I have buildings on the airport that had two feet of water in them.” As a result of the flooding, the airport lost 20 small aircraft. The larger remaining jets, including several Gulfstreams and Globals, came through relatively unscathed. The storm’s wind forced controllers to abandon the tower, just before its windows blew out. The airport was expecting to have its visual navigation aids, all of which were knocked out by the storm, restored by the end of last year, and faults in the lighting system persisted at press time. “On [Runway] 11/29 we’ve been chasing all kinds of problems out there,” said Ford. “There are ghosts in the machine.”

One of the facilities worst hit at BDR was the Atlantic Aviation FBO, which had approximately a foot of water in its 1940s-vintage terminal and tenant offices. The FBO is operating out of a temporary trailer while it undergoes repairs and renovations. It expects to complete repairs by late spring.

At Westchester County Airport (HPN), as at most of the airports in the affected region, many based aircraft flew out ahead of the weather, while the few that remained were securely sheltered in hangars or tied down in the direction of the anticipated prevailing wind with little incident.

Flooding was not an issue at HPN, but the surrounding area suffered massive power outages and the airport was no exception. With its back-up power, the airport was able to remain operational without interruption, and when the generator powering the FAA control tower failed, the airport provided a small spare unit to keep the tower energized. In the aftermath of the storm, the airport was able to accept business aircraft destined for the other closed airports in the region. More than six weeks after Sandy, according to airport manager Peter Scherrer, HPN was still relying on only one of its two major electricity feed lines, with no timetable on when the other would be restored.