Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is Teterboro Airport Safe?

For a considerable period of time people who live in the geographic region surrounding Teterboro Airport in Northern New Jersey have been asking a simple question. That question “Is Teterboro Airport Safe?” has been answered by the N.T.S.B. and clearly that answer suggests that it is not safe. In addition to that it is likely that it cannot be made safe because of the extensive development of the region. In fact it is that very development which has caused Teterboro Airport to become such an attractive destination for the rich and famous.

Yes, it is safe to the extent that Federal Aviation Administration regulations are strictly adhered to as much as is humanly possible. But to the extent that an airport in an urban setting can be made safe, Teterboro Airport clearly cannot be made safe.

Often airports of this dynamic magnitude are in areas where there is a substantial amount of natural buffer surrounding the airstrip. That is not the case however with Teterboro. It is an airport surrounded by industry, a State Highway, State Route 46 to the North and local roads to the East, West and South.

When first developed the region was mostly farmland or swamp. That has over the years changed drastically as the entire region just outside New York City has seen extreme overdevelopment of the real estate do in large part to the proximity of the area to New York City.

Of principle concern are the areas affected north and south of the airport as those are the areas directly affected by the launch and landing of commercial aviation. The area south of the airport has several trailer parks and a small area which represents the civilian housing population of the residential zone of Teterboro, New Jersey. North of the runways are State Route 46 and an industrial zone of South Hackensack which also is home to a small Technical High School directly next to the building which was rammed by the runaway jet in February 2005.

As I stated in my article recently about the newly installed
“Arrestor Bed”
though offering a small bit of protection it is clearly not adequate to stop a jet at high speed. That statement of mine was confirmed in an article appearing on the front page of the November 1, 2006 edition of The Record of Hackensack, New Jersey in which the N.T.S.B. states that the measures to stop a jet at high speed as in the case in 2005 would not have prevented the Jet from departing the airport on the ground.

That jet was simply traveling too fast for the arrestor bed to have made any dramatic effect. According to the article in The Record the Canadair CL-600 was “Going about 127 miles per hour" when it left the grounds of the airport. According to the Pilot John Kimberling the nose of the ship would not lift and the Jets control column became stuck. The investigation determined that the center of gravity had not been calculated and adjusted in preflight resulting in the aircraft not having the ability to get in the air.

The N.T.S.B. investigation has since attributed that fault of that event to the flight crew. As a result of that accident and the following investigation certain changes have been made in regard to specific procedures and clarification has been made on things which seem to have gone on in plain sight in what I can only describe as a gray zone.

Perhaps if the F.A.A. had been clearer on those regulations prior to this serious accident it might have prevented this accident. But apart from the strict enforcement of the regulations by the letter of the law and a full adherence to them by all parties involved it is still undeniable that because of the nature of the geography of the region patterns of development and an increase in the availability of such convienient charter air service to those who can afford such service, those who live work or simply drive in the area of Teterboro Airport are always at risk greater than what would be considered standard risk caused by a general aviation airport.

Consider also that the flight pattern of jets approaching or leaving this airport takes the flights directly over a sports and entertainment facility under the control of The Meadowlands Sports and Exposition Authority. Meadowlands Racetrack, Giants Stadium home of the New York Giants and New York Jets football franchises, The Continental Airlines Sports Arena current home of the New York Nets and the future site of a very large and ambitious though financially troubled entertainment/recreation/hotel/mall development and you have a recipe for disaster.

This does not even take into consideration the many radio broadcast transmitter towers in the region which includes the 700 foot tall W.O.R. 710 AM towers which are being converted to a smaller and more technologically advanced tower array nearby. As the older and larger towers are slated for demolition which is also a matter of local debate it is noticeable that the older towers have recently become more of an aviation hazard as a number of the red aviation lights no longer are functional.

But all of these things add up to one simple fact, and that fact is that even the N.T.S.B. has serious concerns about issue of safety involving Teterboro Airport. Is the recent decision of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take a proactive stand to limit night departures and noise levels enough to satisfy the residents of the region? It would seem that based on the information contained in the article in The Record more needs to be done.

But what can be done to insure that this airport operates in a safe environment. I believe that there is little that can be done short of a complete ban on the airport in allowing the use of this facility for charter aviation. But that in my view is highly unlikely as Teterboro Airport represents a significant investment by the Port Authority and anyone who pass nearby will see constant upgrades in both the length and width of the runways and the construction of a number of new and improved terminals and ramps.

The fact is as in all other things American, Cash is King and for that reason alone no real changes will be made in this situation. If money could be spent to improve the situation it would be and has been. But even after the installation of an 8.5 million dollar arrestor bed at the north end and the planned installation of a 12.5 million dollar bed at the south end there is still the high likelihood that at some future point in time an event will take place which will result in the death of someone or perhaps even a greater number of people.

When that day arrives all those who have a voice in the operation of this airport, either on a State, Federal or facility ownership level will have to make account of their actions. It will also be the obligation of the legal profession to demand an accounting of those who will be proven to be accountable.

Perhaps it will take a major lawsuit before anything changes and the people of the region get any form of real justice in regard to the responsible operation of an airport, Teterboro Airport, an airport which has clearly outgrown the ability to exist in a safe environment.
Snake Oil Sam
Snake Oil Sam Internet Media Publishing © 2006

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