While New York City-area Teterboro Airport (KTEB) in is now known as one of the preeminent dedicated general aviation airports in the world, and home to scores of private jets, there are those there who remember life at the Northern New Jersey airport before there even was such a thing as a private jet. Among them is Ken Forester, the CEO of Meridian—the only independent FBO left at KTEB—who basically grew up on the airfield.
The family-owned company is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year at KTEB, and though it was founded in 1946, the name Meridian is relatively new in terms of the company’s long history.
Ken Sr., Forester’s father, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force (AAF) at the start of World War II, and eventually became a test pilot based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where the younger Forrester was born. His duties there included working out the kinks on the Lockheed P-80, the U.S. military’s first operational jet fighter.
After the conclusion of the war, Ken Sr., then an A&P mechanic, along with his former AAF-pilot brother-in-law, started up aircraft maintenance and sales facility Mallard Air Service at Teterboro. In 1958, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey offered Ken Sr. a larger leasehold on which to establish a new FBO, which was named General Aviation. The company has remained there ever since.
Among the services offered by the new business were a flight school, tiedowns, aviation gasoline dispensed from fixed tanks rather than fuel trucks, aircraft sales, and three small Quonset hut maintenance hangars. Ken Jr. spent his youth at the airport, helping out with aircraft maintenance as soon as he was old enough to work the manual chain drive on the hangar doors. He pumped avgas and took flight lessons at the company’s flight school, earning his license at age 17. In 1963, he was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and like his father became a military pilot, serving for nine years, flying the supersonic Convair F-102 fighter.
In 1974, after he exited the Air Force, Ken Jr.’s father asked if he wished to run the family business. “I took over the operation, which was pretty much the same as it had been when I left in 1963, not too much had changed,” Forester told AIN. “I restarted the flight school and we built it up to about 33 airplanes by the early 1980s, and we expanded the tiedown area. I think at the peak we had about 130 airplanes based with us, all pistons.”
From that point, things began to ramp up. The company added hangars and a new terminal and launched an aircraft charter/management division. In 1985, it initiated jet fuel sales, and the following year began a two-decade stint as a Million Air franchisee. In 2006, Forrester decided the FBO would go it alone, and rebranded the company name to Meridian (Booth 2031). The two-decade-old, 2,650-sq-ft terminal was replaced with the present 30,000-sq-ft structure along with an adjoining 40,000-sq-ft hangar.
The company had long considered expansion to the West Coast, and after trips spent visiting his daughter who heads up Meridian’s California sales offices and his new grandchild, Forester settled on San Francisco-area Hayward Executive Airport. “I came across Hayward as an airport that we thought had a lot of potential, was wonderfully located, and it only had one FBO, and there was land to the south of the runways that was available to be developed,” Forester said. The company signed a 50-year lease on a 15-acre plot in 2014, and Meridian Hayward opened in 2016. (Also in 2016, Ken Sr., a member of the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame and a recipient of the FAA’s Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award, passed away.)
Over the past year, the company has moved to streamline itself and focus on its core ground handling strengths. It sold off its aircraft charter/management division to Jet Linx and disbanded its Part 145 maintenance operation, which existed largely to service its charter aircraft. Duncan Aviation is currently leasing the former space to stand up a satellite maintenance facility at the Teterboro FBO.
With the arrival of Covid-19 and its new realities, Meridian, like most in the industry was impacted, according to Ken Jr., adding that the decline in Teterboro’s corporate aviation traffic has hurt the airport badly. “The pandemic was a tremendous challenge and it looks hopefully like we’re on the other side of the worst of it,” he said, noting that leisure travel has seen a strong resurgence.
“We’ve seen a lot of that and we’re hoping that will continue and if you add some business aircraft increases, we should have a good fall. We’re back up to full strength though, we’ve hired everybody back who was furloughed or whose hours were cut back.”